What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
The most significant way that I help UB become more sustainable is through my teaching. I ‘teach teachers,’ or primarily teach graduate students who are learning to become teachers. In many of my courses, I integrate learning about civic action and the environment. For example, this past Spring, my students learned both the scientific and historical contexts of a local creek and created lesson plans for their future classes that focused on studying local waterways with elementary aged students. My hope in doing this work is that it might have a lasting influence (beyond our semester’s work) on both the soon-to-be teachers who may teach about local environmental sustainability issues and on their future students who will learn about it. Too often, young children learn about the environment through heart-wrenching stories about polar bears. Although these are important stories, the most developmentally appropriate ways for young people to learn about the environment is through developing strong and relatable connections to their local environment.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
My current research project focuses on young people’s environmental participation and its connection to their classroom learning in urban schools. Many environmental educators aim to prepare students to actively participate in addressing environmental issues at both societal and personal levels, but researchers have yet to figure out which sorts of classroom experiences might support young people to develop as environmental participants. This concern is especially great for the youth in poor and urban communities who often live on the margins—socially, economically, and frequently environmentally as well. Thus, in my research I work with high school environmental science teachers who are deeply engaged in this process, so that we can learn from them and their students about the most significant classroom experiences that influence youth’s environmental actions.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
Students play a number of roles in my sustainability work. The doctoral students, who are research assistants on my project, and I work on all levels of the research together. I also integrate my research into my teaching of pre-service teachers by incorporating learning about our local sustainability issues. In both of these aspects, I always learn a lot alongside my students and learn from the thoughtful ways that they approach their learning and research. For example, two of my students did a civic action project for my class in which they studied UB’s recycling system and found that a majority of the students, faculty, and staff they interviewed had too little knowledge about UB’s recycling system. As a result, they identified UB’s helpful recycling diagram and posted it on every bin in Baldy Hall (the location of the School of Education). They also set up a meeting with UB’s Office of Sustainability so they could share their findings and activities.
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I can always do more! One of the most significant ways I try to work towards sustainability is by reducing. I think reducing what we purchase and reducing our CO2 emissions (driving less, using less electricity, etc.) can have a sizable impact on sustainability, but it’s one thing that’s really hard for people to do—myself included. A few years ago, I tried a self-imposed experiment of not buying anything new (only used) for a year (except food and those sorts of essentials that you can’t really buy used). It helped me to reorient my thinking about needs, wants, and how I could reduce, reuse, and repair things to make do with what I had.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
UB is doing a lot of things to raise our awareness of sustainability. One area that I would love to see improve is in UB’s impact on our local water. UB has a large footprint of impermeable surfaces, from parking lots to rooftops and sidewalks. We can ‘do more’ by studying how much water run-off UB is responsible for, examining the quality of that water (chemicals, temperature, amount, etc.), and then addressing this issue to improve our local environment, such as by integrating more rain gardens (like the one already on UB’s South campus!) and permeable pavements.