Monday, August 25, 2008

Greasin' up for the New School Year!

Classes started today! Campus has filled back up and our beautiful arboretum nestled in the center of Nashville is once again bursting with life. The summer lull was a productive time for the project and for those of us who stuck around to brave the heat. But with the return of old friends and the making of new ones, the fuel to propel us farther forward has finally arrived. We are anticipating the exciting semester and the promising year that lays ahead of us on our highway’s horizon!

The opening of “The Commons” meant that Vanderbilt kicked things off a little differently this year, with the Class of 2012 moving in one-week early and undergoing five days of on-campus orientation. Since community service is valued highly at our institution, all 1,600 freshmen dedicated one of their first days here volunteering for something, somewhere in the city. The event was called “Commodores in the Community” and VBI hosted two different groups on two consecutive days!

Since we view service as a labor of love, we used the opportunity to share with the incoming students some of the reasons ‘why-we-do-what-we-do’ instead of immediately putting them to work alongside us doing-what-we-do (it is...after all...a pretty dirty job!).

We began our day with an introductory power point presentation. We talked about how the nature of environmental problems has evolved and how consequently, methods for effectively addressing them have had to evolve too. We discussed the difference between “Environmental Sticks” (Regulations, Taxes, and Fines) and “Environmental Carrots” (Incentives and Rewards). And we told them about the “Environmental Carrot” that motivated us to get going (the MTV/GE EcoMagination Grant) and about how, despite not officially “winning” the contest, our university still supported us with the financial resources that we needed to bring our idea to life.

We then spilt up into two groups. The first group toured our campus’ coal fired power plant to help us illustrate the difference between “Point” and “Non-Point” pollution sources. We also thought that this was an important stop because the word “energy” gets thrown around a lot (especially lately!). It is commonly talked about as if it were one homogeneous thing and rarely does it actually get separated out into its various components. There is energy as it relates to fuels for transportation and then there is energy as it relates to electricity, cooling and heating. And fundamentally, the issues associated with each are very different but too often they are addressed in public discourse as if they were the same.

Meanwhile, the second group toured our shed before walking over to the Commons. We collect waste-veggie oil from their cafeteria and so we went “behind the scenes” to see where and how their food is prepared. We then spent time doing service; cleaning out our collection tanks which had, over time, accumulated a thick layer of food scraps. This had been making it hard for us to collect oil and so their greasy effort at the very dirty job was very much appreciated! After lunch the groups switched.

Afterwards, they happily washed their hands with eco-suds and then reflected on all they had learned from the day! What a great-greasy way to begin the new school year! Thanks for your help Class of 2012!

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