By MEGAN HARTLEY, Capital News Service
The food scraps dumped by St. Mary's College student Maya Cosentino (above) will become fertilizer in a few months for the gardens on campus. Photo by Megan Hartley, Capital News Service.
ST. MARY'S CITY- It's a warm March day at St. Mary's College of Maryland and sophomore Maya Cosentino is guiding the college's rickety blue van down a winding road that follows the St. Mary's River.
On this sunny afternoon, her destination is a compost heap.
She yanks open the side door of the van and hauls out white and blue plastic buckets full of cantaloupe skin, coffee grinds, pineapple cores and other things resulting from that day's breakfast and lunch at the campus dining hall.
"I pick up about five of these gallon buckets every evening, it takes about a half hour," says Cosentino, who then empties what almost everyone else would recognize as garbage into the compost heap where in a few months nature will turn it into fertilizer.
A few yards away in a grassy opening where the van is parked, senior Alice Vossbrinck rakes the student-made vegetable garden so she can grow her own vegetables in the spring. The compost from the pile Cosentino has just fed will be used to fertilize the garden.
"Kids grow whatever they want there, all sorts of greens," said Benjamin Hancock, a sophomore who oversees the garden.
The scene at St. Mary's College is being played out in various ways at colleges around the state. Students are composting their food scraps, sharing showers and working with professors on windmills; they're switching to florescent light bulbs and even giving student funds to encourage renewable energy. Mostly the result of student initiatives, the projects are making even the most reluctant of administrators sit up and take notice.
At Washington College in Chestertown, the "George Goes Green," campaign is in full swing again this year. The brainchild of senior Shannon Holste, the campaign organizes a competition between dorms on campus to see which uses the least energy. This year, the winning dorm will get breakfast in bed - served by the student environmental club - the weekend before finals.
"The idea with the prize is if they save the school energy, then we will save them physical energy by bringing them breakfast in bed," said Holste.
Last year, Washington College students went to extremes to win the prize of a catered party. They piled into the shower together, turned off the lights for days on end, refused to do laundry and even shared computers.
"It got a little bit crazy last year," Holste said. "Students were trying so hard, I would walk into the dorm and all the lights would be out. The bathroom was pitch-black. Kids were wandering around running into each other. They didn't do their laundry for three weeks."
Holste hopes to see the same kind of enthusiasm once this year's campaign nears its end in April. Just a week ago, the environmental club drew a line around the science building on campus to demonstrate where water would be if the sea level were to rise three feet, a common prediction by scientists.
"Since we are on a hill, we would be kind of an island. The college would be shut down," said Kascie Herron another environmentally minded student on campus.
These eco-friendly students are getting some serious support from faculty and administrators. Most colleges are encouraging the green movement and are willing to put the power of the purse and faculty expertise behind it.
At St. Mary's College, the trustees voted to contribute an extra $130,000 to make the new Anne Arundel Hall certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) - a national benchmark for high performance green buildings. The College is also contributing half the funds for a geo-thermally heated boathouse, the other half is to come from the student government.
St. Mary's is building one of the first state-funded green buildings, Goodpasture Hall. It looks exactly like all the other buildings on campus built in the historic Tidewater Maryland style of architecture - except it is build in part from recycled materials and equipped with components like waterless urinals.
At Frostburg University, an innovative professor is making use of the frequent high winds at the university's mountain locale. By attaching a windmill and a solar panel to Fuller House on campus, Dr. Oguz Soysal hopes to demonstrate how any house in Frostburg can be fully powered by renewable energy.
"We are excited about it because we are working towards becoming a sustainable university," said Patrick O'Brien, president of Frostburg University's Sierra Student Coalition. "The start is by highlighting things like Dr. Soysal's windmill initiative. You can't really make a sustainable university overnight."
This is not to say that all student initiatives have been successful and college administrations are always ready to embrace the fervor of the green movement. Holste and Herron described their failed attempts to have Washington College administrators get LEED certification for the renovation of the Gibson Center for Performing Arts.
The two students tell the story of the John S. Toll Science Center, a campus building built in 2004 that is notoriously inefficient. The building's hefty energy expenses would not exist if an outside LEED consulting firm had been used to monitor the construction. They are doing everything they can to make sure this does not happen with the renovated arts center.
"We have talked to the president, to architects, we passed around a petition we even got the SGA to offer to up some money. The fact is the LEED certification will not happen unless we have a really big donor," said Holste.
The movement is not solely focusing on renewable energy. Local food sources are encouraged as well.
Michael Strumpf, general manager of Bon Appetite at St. Mary's College makes sure the food he serves comes from local growers like the Funny Farm. He is also attempting to get the local Amish to raise and slaughter cattle specifically for the college. Every year he organizes the school's "eat local challenge." - the idea is to serve only local foods for an entire week.
"We have these bio-degradable plastic cups made out of corn," said Strumpf holding one up at the crowded dining-hall furnished with wooden beams and lined by large windows. "In the 'Eat Local' challenge we use only foods - including spices - from growers within 150 miles of the college." The green movement does not appear to be a fad that will fade away as students graduate. The Center for the Environment and Society at Washington College offers students like Holste and Herron an internship - complete with a $1500 stipend - to work on and document their green ideas. That way when they graduate another intern will take up the tasks they left behind.