By Gordy Moore
On Saturday, April 5, Macalester hosted the first-ever mass gathering of sustainability-minded Minnesota college students. The freshly formed Twin Cities+ Student Sustainability Network, created this semester by Sam Zieve ’17, Shelby Witherby ’18 and Ana Diaz ’18, kicked off with a day-long summit held at Mac last Saturday.
After a morning keynote, the 70-plus student participants chose from several breakout sessions and workshops. Later on, the students joined program-specific groups (climate justice, waste, food and energy) for resource sharing and networking, preceding a brief closing.
Before the day began with the keynote address, students from over eight Minnesota colleges and universities filed in and quickly began the networking that was a focus of the day. Summit attendees differed in what they hoped to gain from the experience.
Cormac Quinn ’19 of St. John’s University hoped that participating in the summit would be a springboard to stronger campus action in Collegeville.
“St. John’s, we’re struggling right now — we just lost our sustainability coordinator, so there’s a big push for it to be a full-time position instead of part-time, which it is currently,” Quinn said.
Although no other St. John’s students made the trek to St. Paul, Quinn was determined to forge ahead of his own volition. “Doing things like this shows that the students are active and engaged in sustainability and hopefully the school will take heed and say, ‘this is the kind of thing that students want,’” Quinn said.
For Macite Que Nguyen ’17, the day’s activities were both an extension of her everyday work and an useful educational opportunity.
“I work in the Sustainability Office and am also an environmental studies major—I talked with other office workers and heard a little bit about the program. I’m interested in learning what other colleges are doing with their sustainability initiatives and also learning from the speakers that Mac invited to talk today,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen, who is specifically interested in how environmental issues are portrayed to the public, found the communication breakout session was right up her alley.
A local university with perhaps the shortest travel time to the Summit, St. Thomas, sent a large contingent, that included Carli Monroe ’17.
“I’m an environmental studies major,” Monroe said. “It’s a little bit different now coming to conferences as a senior—I used to look and see what people were doing on other campuses that I could bring back to St. Thomas, but it’s a little different. I’m just excited to hear other people’s ideas. I’m coming with an open mind, and we’ll see what happens.”
Lauren Schultz ’18 of the University of Minnesota was posted at the registration desk. Along with the trio of Mac students, Schultz played a role in organizing the summit.
“My supervisor put me in contact with Sam, and we did some back and forth emailing, and I ended up helping with the planning and brainstorming,” Schultz said.
According to Schultz, the Twin Cities+ Student Sustainability Network and Summit fill a real need in inter-campus resources sharing and collaboration.
“I thought it was an amazing idea! I work for sustainability education at the U, and I really like the idea of different campuses coming together, because I think that’s something that we’re lacking in the Twin Cities at least, and every campus offers something different with sustainability,” Schultz said.
The Summit got underway with a keynote speech on inclusion of pollinator-friendly habitats surrounding community solar installations by Rob Davis, the Media and Innovation Lab Director at Fresh Energy.
“In Minnesota, what we’re proposing is co-locating solar and prairieland—stacking the functions…When people think of solar, we want people to think of positive things, like butterflies and bees,” Davis said, contrasting this idea with slides of barren solar farms amidst dusty gravel.
Davis positioned solar and pollinator habitats as being a perfect combination that can help alleviate habitat loss while beautifying sprawling solar arrays.
Speaking a few days after the Summit, the organizers declared the Summit a success.
“I thought the Summit was really cool because a lot of Mac’s identity is based on this idea of social activism and civic engagement, but sometimes it’s cool to see schools that are doing more than us that we haven’t even been thinking about,” Diaz said.
The organizers are not yet certain how the Network will function in the future, but they are grateful for the opportunities it has already created.
“A lot of these conversations are really serendipitous in many ways, and way better than email. Just talking to people, it doesn’t happen enough anymore,” Zieve said.
Diaz said of the Network’s utility, “You share resources, and you don’t reinvent the wheel, because there are students doing a particular thing in sustainability at another school.”