by Kristine Sholty '11
A small seed of sustainability, planted in the fertile minds of Kalamazoo College students, has burgeoned into some fascinating research projects. The College's Climate Commitment Review Committee created summer fellowships that allow students to research, monitor, and index the college's greenhouse gas emissions. Leeor Schweitzer '11 and Trace Redmond '13 were awarded this year's fellowships, continuing the strong, sustainable vine of "K" College's green goals.
Some background: three years ago, Kalamazoo College plowed the soil for these fellowships by joining the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment and creating the Climate Commitment Planning Committee on campus. Paul Manstrom, associate vice president of facilities management, has always been a dedicated devotee to saving energy and funds for the college. His constant search for sustainable solutions prompted President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran to appoint him chair of the committee.
The committee began meeting in the fall of 2007. First task: take an inventory of the College's greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, the committee wrote its sustainability and climate action plan, which calls for "K" to reach carbon neutrality (wherein the carbon the College releases into the atmosphere is less than or equal to sequestration and purchased offsets) by 2050. The more emissions reduced, the less costly purchasing those offsets will be. That goal would require a great deal of research on potential carbon emission reduction on campus.
And that's where the summer research fellowships came in. Students submit proposals to study how many emissions the College releases and how that amount can be reduced. Other proposals measure how much carbon college grounds remove from the atmosphere, which would offset some of the carbon the college releases into the air. Committee members, including Manstrom and Associate Professor of Biology Binney Girdler, evaluate the research proposals and award fellowships (stipend and research money) to the best two or three proposals (many more are submitted).
This past summer, Trace Redmond '13 was one of the two fellows. Redmond is a biology major, the president of Digging in Renewable Turf (aka D.I.R.T., "K's" organic garden group), and a member of the Slow Food Living-Learning House on campus. His summer research continued the project of former fellows Ben Cooper '10 and Ellen Smith '11, and studied the sequestration potential of the soil and plant life at the College's Lillian Anderson Arboretum, 140 acres of marsh, meadow, pine plantation, and second-growth deciduous forest located five miles west of campus. His project was supervised by Girdler.
"Soil scientists are nuts," says Trace. "They are like accountants for dirt, keeping track of it, organizing it, and releasing that information to the public." In order to measure the carbon emission levels, Trace created a mapping system using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a sophisticated digital data program. Several times a week he traveled to the Arboretum, drilling through two layers of soil - in layman's terms, "a brown layer and a sandy one" - to test the tricky mixture of texture. The soil measurement process involves classifying soil by dividing each type into specific categories. Trace created a baseline measurement of all of the carbon stored in the Arboretum to determine initial levels of sequestration, and the College will compare these carbon results to soil measurements on campus.
In addition to his sustainable work in Kalamazoo, Trace spent two weeks in September in Vancouver, working with the Living Local Foods organic farm during harvesting season. "I definitely prefer working outside," says Trace. "That's why I started studying biology in the first place."
Veering away from the natural sciences, Leeor Schweitzer '11 turned to the social sciences for his fellowship research. One year previous to his work, Amanda Lawrence '10 had evaluated barriers for bicycle use on campus. Using Amanda's work as a launch pad, Leeor developed survey and targeting tools to precisely assess social behavior. "In order to find the solution," says Leeor, "we must accurately identify
"Soil scientists are nuts. They are like accountants for dirt..."the problems that inhibit campus bicycle use."
Leeor contacted past members of bike reform efforts for best practices. He tested the College's campus for strategies that might put more people on bikes. His ideas for a bike-friendly campus include providing indoor parking and covered racks, issuing maps of community pathways and bicycle services, and making sure calendars of group bicycling events are readily available. Leeor's research mentor is Rob Townsend, Kalamazoo College's recycling coordinator and the advisor for the Helping Understand Bikes (HUB), the campus bicycle advocacy group. Leeor hopes to enlist HUB in his project to increase bike use and thereby decrease carbon emissions from motor vehicles.
Redmond and Schweitzer were part of a strong tradition of summer sustainability fellowships. Past interns with creative projects have generated substantial results. Adam Smith '11, for example, tested the potential for LED lighting on campus, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while saving energy for the campus. As a result of this project, the College installed LED lights in the library's Biggby Coffee, saving $900 annually.
Manstrom hopes that more and more students will come to support sustainability efforts on campus. "For these fellowships, the campus carbon emissions rate is the important first step," he says. "The more we reduce this rate, the less we'll have to rely on purchasing offsets to achieve neutrality." The fellowships make use of the campus' research capacity, some of which might otherwise lay fallow in the summer. They often morph into SIPs. And many - like the Redmond's and Schweitzer's - build on summer fellowship work that came before. All lead to a more environmentally sound lifestyle for every member of "K." The committee hopes to continue the fellowships' unique, various techniques of research and measurement that will create significant change for Kalamazoo College's sustainability campaign. Who knew such a small seed could produce such a solid green foundation?
Trace Redmond gets up close and personal with his research subject.
Leeor Schweitzer with "Man's Best Friend."