By spending less time in the classroom at St. John Fisher College, Michael Boller may actually expand his teaching.
Boller, an associate professor of biology at Fisher, has launched the college’s new Center for Sustainability, a two-year project focusing on the academic community’s environmental impact that he hopes will become permanent.
“We want to make the college really more resilient,” Boller said. Energy prices are at an all-time low, he noted, but it would be a mistake to rely on them staying that way. So energy conservation is a prime target for sustainability efforts. Other tasks the center is taking on are updating the college’s recycling program, looking at food waste and composting, and engaging with the larger community to create service opportunities for students around sustainability.
The center will touch on three areas at the college, Boller said: academics, facilities and student life.
Boller has one work-study student and a handful of student volunteers working with him, including several who had taken environmentally related courses from him in the past. Normally handling four classes a semester, he now teaches just one class while performing his sustainability duties. However, those duties have him partnering with and informally teaching a broader range of campus inhabitants.
For instance, Boller has been working with the facilities manager at the college about energy usage. And he’s working with the college’s waste disposal firm on updating Fisher’s recycling program. He views his role as being the middle man catalyzing new efforts.
About that recycling program—enter some of the buildings on campus and you’ll find yourself being greeted by a range of recycling containers labeled with the type of waste that should go into each one. The problem is that signs with lots of words don’t resonate with the grab-and-go population. Boller said the words need to be replaced with pictures—photos, not drawings—that inform people more quickly which items are recyclable and which container to put them in.
What may seem simple really isn’t, noted Kenneth Caminero, vice-president of operations for Fisher’s Student Government Association. He’s also a member of the steering committee for the sustainability center. “A lot of people don’t know how to recycle,” he said, and the reason is simple. “Growing up, we really didn’t have a formal education about how to recycle, so a lot of people really don’t know how to do it.”
Having a sustainability center on campus will hold the Fisher community accountable, Caminero said. “We can’t say we don’t have the knowledge on how to be green or how to be friendly to the environment. There is a center telling us how to be green,” he said.
Over the next few weeks, three students working on an independent study in sustainability with Boller will be setting up meetings with a variety of shareholders from students to the college president to gain input into sustainability goals.
“All of us come from different backgrounds,” said Julia Greene, a senior psychology major from Newark, Wayne County, with a minor in sustainability. “We can influence our friends in different areas in the school. I also think it’s more important that it’s student led instead of just coming from a faculty member. Students have such a big impact on each other.”
Angela Mang, a senior biology major from Clarence, Erie County, with a sustainability minor, hopes to incorporate what she learns about sustainability at Fisher into a career in mental health, where exposure to more natural settings can help in healing.
Boller, meanwhile, expects to incorporate sustainability lessons into orientation and freshman-year classes at Fisher, aiming to change the culture at the school. Further, he’s developing an academic major in sustainability that he hopes to gain state approval for next year. He has plans to reach out to local nonprofits concerned with sustainability, which could result in service or internship opportunities for students. He has looked to sustainability programs at Rochester Institute of Technology and Nazareth College for advice, but also is seeking recognition more broadly. For instance, he hopes to enter Fisher in the annual REV Campus Challenge, an energy-saving competition run by the New York State Energy Resource and Development Authority that grew out Gov. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative of 2015.
“I want to use the college as a living laboratory,” Boller said. His to-do list suggests he’ll have plenty to do in that laboratory. A faculty member since 2008 and a long-time member of the college’s recycling committee, Boller said, “I’ve been working on this for a number of years.”
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