Kristian Fox '19 didn't expect an English paper to lead him to a passion for preserving the environment, but that's exactly where he ended up.
"I wrote a paper about the politics behind climate change," the electrical engineering major from Las Vegas explained. "It sparked a major fire in me that the world needs to be more sustainable."
That spark led Fox to explore how he could personally contribute to making the world around him more environmentally stable. As a founding member of Bucknell's new Sustainability Outreach Team, he's not only incorporating sustainability into his own life, but helping his peers make more conscious decisions in their own. Started last fall and coordinated by Bucknell Sustainability Coordinator Debbie Namugayi, the student-staff collaboration targets the human element of sustainability, endeavoring to make Bucknell more sustainable by influencing individual decisions.
"Reversing climate change and all these major, big-picture problems that we have starts with people making responsible decisions and deciding that it's not a hassle or a burden to make their lives more sustainable," Fox said.
So far, the 13-member team has hosted eight events and made contact with more than 160 members of the Bucknell community. Through fun activities such as a recycling sorting challenge, calculating your own carbon footprint and up-cycle crafting, the students are educating their peers about small, nearly effortless changes that add up to make a big difference.
"It helps students see the relevance of sustainability in their lives," said team member Katherine Doyle '18, a managing for sustainability major. "A lot of people think of sustainability as an external thing, but it really does affect them, and they can make personal changes to help."
In addition to their outreach activities, the students are partnering with Bucknell offices and staff to identify and set in motion broader institutional changes to improve the University's sustainability. Fox is working with Bucknell Facilities and Dining Services to investigate the possibility of composting biodegradable trash, for example, while Doyle is investigating methods of optimizing the efficiency and use of the Downtown Shuttle with the Student Transportation office. These activities have deepened their educational experience by putting what they learn in the classroom into action.
"It's getting your hands on real situations and affecting real change," Doyle said. "In class you learn about theoretical things or things that have already been done, but this gives you the chance to actually make that change yourself, and you just learn so much."
The Sustainability Outreach Team is the latest in a growing list of ways that students can make direct, meaningful contributions to making Bucknell a more sustainable campus. Others include the Renewable Energy Scholars, an interdisciplinary group dedicated to increasing understanding about renewable energy technologies; the Green Fund, a source of start-up funding for cost-saving sustainability projects proposed and implemented by students, faculty and staff; the Institute for Leadership in Sustainable Technology, an intensive summer experience in which student research teams act as renewable energy consultants; and the student-run Bucknell Environmental Club.
Among the most intensive is the Energy & Sustainability Internship run by Campus Energy Manager Steve Durfee. For the past five years, interns with Bucknell Facilities have overseen projects that reduce energy and resource consumption on campus, offering these students a chance to shepherd a real-world project from conception through implementation. Last year, Lauren O'Connor '19, a cell biology/biochemistry major, managed a $65,000 budget and a team of five workers who swapped 7,500 lights for more efficient LED bulbs over the summer.
"It teaches you skills you can use anywhere," said O'Connor, noting that the project-management skills she honed through the internship helped her in applying for a pharmaceutical-industry internship.
"And what I really like is that you can actually see the projects you do come to life — a lot sooner than you'd expect," she added. "Seeing the results of what you're doing is really rewarding."
O'Connor is continuing to work with Durfee on an even more ambitious lighting replacement plan for next summer, this one aiming to replace twice as many bulbs.
Fox noted that efforts like O'Connor's and his team's complement each other, amplifying the impact of each.
"We're all building off each other," he said. "We all support each other. If the Environmental Club wants to have an event, we'd love to be there and grow both of our programs. And as members of the Sustainability Outreach Team, I think we can play a role in informing others about these different programs. It's made me feel more like a Bucknellian."