Making Millikin more environmentally sustainable

Denny Patterson, Senior Editor

Student Senate recently held an open question and answer session with President Pat White. Before White took the floor, sociology professor Dr. Ken Laundra presented the service-learning project his environmental sociology class has currently been working on. This year’s project centers on how to make Millikin and the Decatur community more environmentally sustainable.

“Millikin needs to consider ways to be more environmentally sustainable because it is cost effective,” Laundra said. “Conserving energy, using fuel-efficient or alternative energies in our vehicles and recycling are all ways to reduce our environmental footprint, but this also saves the university money in both the short and long term. For a school with a budget problem, this should be a priority.”

Closely linked to community-based learning, service-learning is an alternate learning and teaching strategy that incorporates community service with guidance and instruction. This method of teaching is beneficial to students because they receive the chance to strengthen local communities and learn to be responsible citizens.

The project includes three sections: a divestment campaign, an environmental studies attitudes survey and the construction of a cob shed. Although the divestment campaign did not lift off the ground, the other two are in full swing.

Laundra’s major goal for this class is to help students understand how the natural environment influences our attitudes, values and behaviors, and to examine how human impacts are causing global environmental crises.

“The service learning component provides students with opportunities to be a part of the solution,” he said. “In the past, I’ve traveled with students to areas where these impacts can be seen, visited new and innovative programs that engage in direct action and advocacy to repair and restore damage done by human civilizations or just raised awareness of various environmental problems.”

An environmental attitudes survey in the form of a questionnaire was distributed in classrooms and involved participation from 353 students. The results have found that there are no statistically significant effects of age, gender, race or college when it comes to sustainable practices here at Millikin. Some effects on class standing [seniors vs. non-seniors] were also observed. Survey questions included rating the importance of issues such as recycling and renewable energy here on campus.

The survey also asked how familiar participants are with the Environmental Action Council (EAC). Seventy-three percent have not heard of the group. Advised by biology professor Rosalyn O’Conner, the EAC has been around for several years raising awareness of critical environmental issues and promoting sustainability efforts with the local community. Those who are familiar would like to see the EAC be more involved with the Decatur community, advertise more and talk to classes and advocate for greener residence halls.

Senior Darrah Hulva attended the presentation and thinks that making a more conscious effort to be more environmentally sustainable is a goal much larger than the university itself.

“Sustainability can begin very small and low-cost,” she said. “Eventually, with dedication and more money budgeted, the efforts made by Millikin could be very impactful. First and most importantly, I think that the students gathered from the President’s Question and Answer Forum that the recycling practices on Millikin’s campus need to be improved, monitored better and maintained more frequently. Awareness and education are key to me in the environmentally sustainable campaign; the more I am aware, the more likely I am to look out for opportunities.”

Like Hulva, many students say they have become better educated through classes and student organizations about the importance of being involved with the environment.

Lastly, Laundra’s teaching assistant, Terry McCrate talked about the cob shed project. The goal is to construct a tool shed in the campus garden from natural materials to promote sustainable alternatives. Students are required to spend a total of four hours working on the cob shed, but are encouraged to do more.

Cob is a building material that has been used for centuries made out of clay, sand, water, straw and soil. Builders can mold and shape their design to their own specifications. Cob is also inexpensive, durable, fireproof, water resistant and eco-friendly.

“This project benefits the students by showing them there is a way to build sustainable buildings that will last a long time,” McCrate said. “The cob shedis a great learning tool that shows students something they have [most likely] never seen before. It gets them involved with some of the surrounding community around Millikin. This project gives the community a place to plant vegetables, a space for outdoor activities and it also shows the community how to do things sustainably by using the natural resources around us.”

If anyone is interested in participating in environmental studies, contact Laundra. A new environmental studies minor will also be offered which will be coordinated by O’Conner. A minimum of 21 credit hours are required, with at least nine credits earned in courses numbered 300 or above.