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Sustainability Academy offers students opportunity

Students plant trees at the Solar Strand on the North Campus.

Students plant trees at the Solar Strand on the North Campus. 

Published June 19, 2014

“Opportunity” is the word Joshua Beres uses to describe UB’s Sustainability Academy.

“We want to show students that their actions are interconnected with everyone else and help them view themselves as part of a larger community.”
Kenneth Shockley, Academic Director
Sustainability Academy

A sophomore chemical engineering major interested in alternative fuels, green chemicals and biodegradable materials, Beres has known for years that he wants a career addressing environmental issues. But his passion peaked with an introductory sustainability course offered via the Sustainability Academy.

“Without a doubt, the biggest thing the Sustainability Academy offered me is opportunity,” says Beres. “They provided me the chance to see how environmental issues impact us; they showed me the groups working to combat those issues throughout the community; and they gave me a platform to voice my opinion and make tangible changes in the community.

“I want to do something that leaves an impact on society. Sustainability gives me a medium to do that.”

Launched last fall, the Sustainability Academy is part the UB Academies, which enable students with shared interests to live and learn together at UB. Other academies focus on entrepreneurship, global perspectives, civic engagement and research exploration.

A few dozen students with a shared interest in the environment make up the Sustainability Academy. They live together, learn about eco-friendly practices and are encouraged to pursue ecological initiatives outside the classroom. The academy also brings to UB guest lecturers to broaden students’ education.

One such lecturer is Annie Leonard, an environmental activist who created the “The Story of Stuff,” a 2007 viral video that criticizes excessive consumerism and promotes sustainable living. It spawned a series of videos, including “The Story of Solutions,” as well as a best-selling book.

Leonard’s lecture, “Moving Towards Zero Waste and the Story of Solutions,” is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 11 in the Drama Theater in the Center for the Arts. It is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Attendees can reserve a seat by using the online RSVP form.

In addition to offering courses and sponsoring lectures, the Sustainability Academy developed an internship program to expose students to how local organizations interact with UB.

“We want to show students that their actions are interconnected with everyone else and help them view themselves as part of a larger community,” says Kenneth Shockley, academic director of the Sustainability Academy and associate professor of philosophy. “Recognizing the interdependence of all things is an important lesson for us all to remind ourselves.”

Interns are placed with the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA), an umbrella group of nearly 100 environmental organizations that work to mobilize change through collective action and collaboration to ensure sustainable, thriving ecosystems and communities in Western New York.

Beres and Kristen Janson, senior environmental studies major, both found internships with WNYEA through the academy, where they gained experience blogging on the WNYEA’s website and networking with community leaders.

Janson enrolled in courses offered through the academy and received help connecting with the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP), Clean Air (the former Clean Air Coalition of Western New York) and other members of WNYEA. She even joined the academy’s tour of toxic sites and areas being remediated in the Buffalo Niagara region.

With help from Campus Dining & Shops (CDS), Alpha Kappa Chi and the student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, Janson and several UB students and staff started a 20-foot-by-20-foot garden between The Commons and Greiner Hall on the North Campus. 

The garden embraces permaculture, a method of gardening that emphasizes educational, low-maintenance and edible gardens. The plot will hold perennial plants that grow year-round, such as herbs and lettuces.

Janson, who is interested in resources management and public education, hopes to use the garden as an educational tool where classes can be held. She also plans to use the garden to supply CDS with a source for fresh food for students.