Millie Chen

Millie Chen.

The photo of Millie was taken at Gulangyu Island, which is off the coast of Xiamen in southern China. It was shot by Philosophy Professor Jiyuan Yu in Dec. 2014

We asked Millie Chen, Professor in the Deptartment of Art and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, to tell us about her work in, and thoughts on sustainability.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

I served on the Project and Selection committees for realizing the Solar Strand on North Campus. This was an ambitious initiative to integrate public art with sustainable technology, utilizing a field of photovoltaic panels. The artist, Walter Hood, designed an artwork that functions as both cultural and natural landscape. Beyond its function as a source of sustainable energy (the array has a rated capacity to produce 750,000 watts of carbon-free energy, enough to power approximately 700 student apartments, and is one of the largest ground-mounted solar arrays in New York State), it also functions as a social and educational gathering space for students of all ages.


What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB? And how are students involved in your sustainability work?

I address sustainability issues in all art courses that I teach. One of my courses, Installation: Urban Space, directly engages the city of Buffalo through researching specific urban locations toward the creation of site-specific installations. Ethical considerations are central to the assignments, such as ecological, infrastructural and material concerns, socio-political, cultural and economic contexts, and sensorial and psychological impact.

I also practice sustainability in how I function as a university administrator; this can be as basic as reusing office paper and plastic utensils, avoiding using bottled water, starting a used battery depot for the Dean’s Office, even taking home lunch remains that can’t be composted at work. Simply put, I am conscious of my own footprint every day, throughout the day, no matter what I’m engaged in. It’s not something I think much about anymore because it’s become ingrained habit.


What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?

I live with my family in a small Carolinian forest, populated with a mixed growth of deciduous trees (e.g. cherry, oak, ash, elm, hickory, basswood, beech, maple, ironwood, among others) and shrubs indigenous to this area. It’s a wonderful environment to come home to, and is home base not only to a few humans but also a host of deer, raccoon, opossums, red fox, grey squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, voles, moles, mice, bats, coyote, rabbits, newts, frogs, salamanders, turtles, garter snakes, wild turkey, hawks, chickadee, nuthatch, mourning doves, etc. Living on this land has humbled us to the small part that we play in this much larger ecosystem, and we feel fiercely protective of this small but significant bit of land and its inhabitants. We try to keep our own footprint minimal on this land. For instance, we burn firewood but use only deadfall trees in an airtight stove; the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is the same as that released by wood rotting naturally on the forest floor.


How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

A large and prominent issue is public transportation. UB and Buffalo/Amherst need a high functioning public transit system. This would reduce the amount of vehicular traffic on campus, between campuses, and between the university and the city. It would also help to keep North Campus from becoming a sprawling parking lot, and aid in improving the academic and social life of students by cutting down on travel time and the sense of estrangement from the city when on North Campus.

Small steps can be easily taken, such as banning plastic bags and disposable coffee cups, etc. from campus. Having a composting system, though complicated for such a large campus, would be a responsible development precisely because it is such a large, consuming campus.

Better self-awareness of our own behavior in an environment can be generated by improvement of our surroundings and of life on campus. The introduction of a farmers market on North has been a very welcome addition, but insufficient in availability and duration. Better access (via the new dock and water crafts) to Lake LaSalle has also been a welcome development, but only a start to fixing what remains a cold (and not in the sense of winter temperatures) and sprawling campus.