Eco-Programs Setting Sail at Tech
By by Dennis Walikainen ’92
Marty Auer, professor of civil and environmental engineering, shares knowledge and lake-bottom muck with students and teachers aboard the Research Vessel Aggasiz.
“The kids loved it! The experience was very hands-on, and the teachers learned a lot too!” A local teacher effuses about her class trip aboard the RV Aggasiz.
It’s but one example of eco-education initiatives at Michigan Tech.
Most are coordinated through the Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC); on-campus initiatives have included paper recycling, Earth Week celebrations, and guest speakers. And it’s just getting started.
Student groups have been especially involved in ESC: Phi Sigma Biological National Honor Society has looked at reusing packaging peanuts, Circle K (affiliated with Kiwanis) has worked with the First Monday Recycling Program, and the Society for Environmental Sustainability has coordinated Drop and Shop, to reuse and recycle items students leave after spring semester, to give but three examples.
Graduate and undergraduate students have access to environmental academic programs, too, according to Kristine Bradof, coordinator of the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach.
“The master’s international program in civil and environmental engineering has a unique focus—sustainability,” Bradof says. “It tries to use what’s there, including native knowledge.” A National Science Foundation-funded Research Excellence Undergraduate program is in the works, as is a movement to infuse more environmental focus into various curricula across campus.
Coordinated through the Sustainable Futures Institute (SFI), other academic offerings abound, from Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship to K-12 programs. Their goal is “to make science relevant to citizenry so that it serves society and helps to inform decisions,” according to its website: www.sfi.mtu.edu.
Also, a recent $6-million gift from Richard ’56 and Bonnie Robbins will fund three endowed faculty chairs in sustainability, allowing Michigan Tech to hire “talented professors who have the greatest impact on students,” says Richard Robbins.
Summer Youth Programs and the Western UP Center for Science, Mathematics, and Environmental Education have numerous earth-friendly programs aimed at younger students, their teachers, and their parents, including trips on the Aggasiz.
“We want to get students excited about learning and getting connected to where they live,” says Joan Chadde, education program coordinator for the center. “We want them caring about it, so that they become responsible and active citizens.”
Other local teachers also seem to think it’s working. “The students were excited to go home and go exploring with their family,” says a Houghton third-grade teacher after a forest fieldwork course.
Finally, many of these initiatives allow Tech students to teach and garner a couple more benefits: they improve their presentation skills, and they prove to the students, their parents, and themselves that, regardless their career paths, they can help make the Earth a little bit better.