In April, 2003, student Justin Fleming submitted a proposal decision package to the Student Incidental Fees Committee (SIFC), with intentions of greatly advancing recycling and waste reduction efforts at OSU. After considerable debate in both the Graduate and Undergraduate Senates, the fee proposal went to mediation, where it was eventually approved at $1.85 per student, per term. In February 2006 Justin developed a student advisory board to help manage both the budget and the growing list of sustainability related projects. The newly named Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI) worked with Justin on several projects developed to reduce the ecological footprint of OSU and advance sustainability awareness. In April 2007 Oregon State students voted to increase student fees by $8.50 per student per term to fund 100% renewable energy for the university. The SSI was charged, in part, with overseeing those offsets.
Since 2007, the Student Sustainability Initiative has grown and flourished. From a single-project, all-hands-on-deck approach, the organization has grown to addressing six key areas simultaneously. Today, these areas are Energy, Food, Landscape, Transportation, Water, and Waste Reduction. Tomorrow, they may well be something different. Though established to simply oversee the sustainable fee, the SSI has become much more than a governing body.
This growth has mirrored the breadth and depth of sustainability interests held by the student body we are charged with representing. As students become more involved, more passionate, and more active, the SSI is moving towards a supporting and enabling - rather than initiating - role. Someday, we hope to be unnecessary. Until then, we will continue to grow and change in the ways wee represent and support student interests in sustainability at OSU.
Scroll down to learn more about each year of our history from the perspective of past student employees.
During the 2012 academic year, two major challenges faced the SSI. The first of these challenges was retaining the culture, spirit, and community of the program despite growth and reorganization. Since joining the Department of Student Leadership and Involvement in the Summer of 2010, SSI had made significant progress in becoming more professional, reliable, and efficient. However, during this time, it also lost the community of students that once drove in support of the program. It began to rely more and more on paid staff and student fees. This shift allowed it to do more, and do it better. When the vision of the program, however, is to create a culture sustainability, the loss of a strong volunteer community was anything but a step forward. This was recognized, and the SSI took considerable steps throughout 2011 and 2012 to bring the SSI and that community back together again. The second challenge faced the SSI during the 2012 academic year was that, for the first time, it really begin to reach its limits as a student-coordinated program. This could be addressed, to some extent, but restructuring really only served as a stop-gap. The question still remains: how large can or should be SSI be, how much can it do, and what can we ask of staff and the students that support the program? This challenge, of trying to both improve and grow the program and also recognize the constraints, was crystallized in a number of different issues that arose during the year. One of these was that, due to the under-utilization of the Sustainable Energy Revolving Loan Fund, the SIFC decided to reduce the SSI's annual budget by approximately $50,000. Neither of these challenges were insurmountable, and they certainly didn't hold the SSI back from being amazingly successful. They did, however, reveal underlying issues that they SSI would need to deal with later down the line.
Despite the challenges mentioned above, this was a very busy and successful year for the SSI. With each project coordinator focusing on a small number of individual programs and assisting with one or two collaborative projects, a huge number of projects and events were completed. These included the Sustainability Festival, the Building Energy Challenge, the Energy Civil War, a bio-fuels research center, an energy net-zero commitment, RecycleMania, Earth Week, a university food assessment, the Sustainable Cooking Series, edible container gardening workshops, Tasting Tables, a bicycle shelter green roof, the SSC garden, OSU landscaping practices and policies, a ride-share program, the Bicycle Extravaganza, a bike loan program, a bicycle physical activity course, OSU composting facilities, a composting trial in Halsell Hall, the Ban the Bag campaign, worm bin workshops, a sustainable film festival, the Spring Sustainability Celebration, and a half-dozen other small events and programs. Aproximately 30 students were actively involved in helping the SSI execute these activities, and another 2,067 participated. Across the seventeen events the SSI organized, the average cost per student participant was only about $4.78. In May 2012, the two Co-Director positions were replaced by a single Director position, the Financial and Administrative Coordinator position was changed to an Administrative Coordinator position and was redesigned to take a substantial portion of the program's administration over from the Director, the Partnerships Coordinator position was removed, and the Events and Outreach Coordinator position was changed to an Events Coordinator position with the outreach responsibilities reassigned to the Visibility Coordinator.
If there is one piece of advice we could get, it would be to take yourself seriously but not too seriously. A student-coordinated program is not a club, group, or social circle. It's a university unit, a social enterprise, and a nonprofit organization all rolled into one. The fact that it happens to be organized by students only makes it more dynamic and authentic. You should still treat yourself like an organization. Take assessment seriously, take care of your employees, Take your strategic plan into account when organizing projects and campaigns, and take the time to do the job right. At the same time, recognize that the other half of the work is creating a community and inspiring up-and-coming leaders. Student staff members and interns need some Woelfel about work-life balance, and it often falls to you to make sure that that is supported by the SSI. The point is: balance having fun with getting things done. Do that, and you will see the SSI continue to be as successful in its pursuits and as fufilling for its members as it has been for these past five years.
The 3rd year of the SSI was exciting and fast-paced. We faced challenges in keeping a constant momentum with projects and students. And with our new set up in place having eight coordinator positions we were torn between working through our individual realms or coming together to work on bigger and more focused projects. We also had many administrative issues that were addressed throughout the year with our land and placement within the university. Having both the administrative and student aspects to work on at the same time spread our staff thin, and reduced what could be accomplished. We were only working 10-15 hrs a week and found it hard to manage such a small period of time.
During the 2010 academic year, we brought 40 students to Powershift West '09 in Eugene to attend trainings and meet other students working on environmental issues from around the NW. The Campuses Beyond Coal campaign hit the ground running with notable projects such as the “Energy Civil War” and “Cultural Center Energy Challenge.” Compost pilot projects were started in McNary Residence Hall. The SSI became more connected to the community and the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition’s work groups. Our fee board successfully changed our renewable energy purchases at OSU to actual on campus energy projects that will be finished throughout the 2010-2011 school year. At the end of the year we were excited to receive well over double the amount of applications for SSI positions than we ever had before. It was a great testament to the growing awareness of the SSI on campus. During the summer after the school year the SSI successfully made a programmatic move to the Memorial Union with new advisers through Student Leadership and Involvement and the Sustainability Office.
It is very important to create experiential learning opportunities through the classroom. This is an area the SSI has not tapped to its fullest extent. The flexibility of the SSI structure allows for amazing space and creativity for staff, but given the limited time and hours we are given withour job the more focused and visible projects seem the most effective. Think big, focus and rally people around it. Speak your mind, be collaborative and willing to learn. What you learn in this working environment is practical and fulfilling. Be ready for a magnificent experience.
Being the 2nd year of operations, growth of students and community involvement was very important. Trying to find ways to incubate student ideas into projects was difficult. When projects or ideas became reality, hiking them through OSU administration was challenging given little initial knowledge of how the system worked. Further, myself and Nathan Jones (The ASOSU Director of Environmental Affairs at the time) felt the SSI organizational structure could be improved. Approving this new structure required buy-in from the previous coordinators of SSI.
Without the fantastic staff and volunteers, none of the following programs and projects would have been achieved. The Operation Green Beaver program, started by Nathan Jones trained volunteers to help them become confident in running projects and environmental campaigns. We brought 20 students to PowerShift '09 in Washington DC, the premier national environmental organizing conference. The SSI funded the OSU Permaculture Alliance to design and build a Permaculture Garden. Capital was given for the beginning of the popular Bicycle co-op started by Jacob Kollen. The Revolving Loan Fund was started by the SSI Fee Board, principally by Mike Koch. Wonderful energy efficiency upgrades and meticulous care to the SSC and garden were done by Michaela Hammer. The SSI structure was modified for issue specific positions.
A large budget is great. Utilizing the budget is difficult because we must use students funds wisely and environmentally. Giving SSI coordinators a specific budget and power to use it might lend greater responsibility and dispersion of funds. Setting up student projects integrated with academic studies is a win-win for sustainability experiential learning. Steve Cook’s Geo 300 class set a precedent, while the student Engineering field has room for expansion.
One of the main challenges of AY 2008 was establishing who we were as an organization. Our mission statement was very broad, and we struggled to determine our role and niche within a sea of environmental organizations on and off campus. As a brand new organization, we were ofcourse also challenged with getting our name out and getting students to visit and utilize the center. Lastly, as the next “generation” discovered, we would quickly outgrow the position structure; there were just too many possible projects to have them coordinated by only a couple people.
The 2008 academic year was a year of beginnings and establishing a presence in the community. The summer of 2007 saw its first student worker positions created and the SSC was renovated using green building principles. We had a grand opening and open house during Connect Week 2007 and began our regular 11am-5pm weekday hours for the first time, covered by SSI staff and volunteers. We began establishing connections and relationships with other sustainability organizations - becoming a member of the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition (then a new organization itself), hosting student organization meetings in the main room, etc. Activities that year included elecTrick or Treat (reverse trick or treat in the res halls, handing out CFL bulbs), the Campus Carbon Challenge, two worm bin workshops, Focus the Nation, a sustainability and discussion with Corvallis Mayor Charlie Tomlinson, the completion of the solar trailer, promotional events for the new reuse-a-cups, Recyclemania promotions, and Earth Week. In 2007 SSI was the primary organizer of Earth Week, organizing an event nearly every day.
Stay in tune with what other OSU and community organizations are up to and constantly seek collaboration; otherwise you may step on toes, replicate services, or miss opportunities. Plus, it’s fun and rewarding! Always be thinking of how to improve the organization, but don’t forget the past; for example don’t forget to promote and utilize the solar trailer even if your generation doesn’t have its fingerprints on it. Always keep in the back of your mind that you are developing leaders; your greatest legacy is an awesome leader who takes your place. Don’t forget to breathe - step back from the dizzying details and look at the big picture occasionally. And be proud to be part of this amazing organization!