Working in the Office of Environmental Sustainability

The Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES) often hires student workers throughout the year and during the summer to work on a variety of sustainability-related projects and/or as research assistants. Some of these projects are student-initiated while others have gone on to become student-run programs on campus. Interested in working in the OES? You can either be on the lookout for OES job postings, or reach out to Laura Draucker (ldraucker@amherst.edu), the director of environmental sustainability, with any sustainability ideas/campaigns that you would like to work on. See profiles of our awesome student workers below

2016 Summer Research Projects

Summer Student Researchers 2016

What did you work on this summer in the OES?

Allison: I did research on environmental communications on campus. I started out by reading articles about the principles of effective communications and looking at what other schools were doing. Then, I applied what I learned to projects at Amherst, focusing specifically on the new Greenway dorms. I created a communications program that will encourage sustainable habits and educate about the sustainable features of the Greenways. I also prescribed the expansion of the Eco-reps program pilot of last year into the Greenways to create a culture of sustainability in the new dorms from the start.

Carlos: I worked on the waste infrastructure around campus, particularly Grab and Go. Over the past few weeks I have been researching how to cut back on waste from Grab and Go and around campus, while also looking at how we can ensure the waste we do produce on campus is disposed of responsibly. By changing the containers Grab and Go uses, implementing a campus-wide compost program, and promoting recycling, I think we’ll help make the College more sustainable. 

What was the most interesting thing you learned?

Allison: The most interesting thing I learned were ways that other schools are incorporating sustainability into curriculum and daily lives of students. There are some really interesting and effective models that could work at Amherst too. We seem to be a little behind in the environmental game, but I’m confident that we can make strides to catch up. 

Carlos: I think the most interesting thing I learned is role of plastics in society. There are several different kinds of plastic out there, and each one has different properties. PET plastic containers are made of fossil fuels and can be recycled, but they have to be cleaned of food and junk. PLA plastic containers on the other hand are made from corn. They might look exactly like PET plastic containers but they’re compostable and can’t be recycled. It’s pretty overwhelming to distinguish between all the kinds of plastic and how to dispose of each one properly, yet plastics are everywhere in life. If there’s a way to make it easier for people to understand how to dispose of each plastic, I think that’d be a huge plus for the environment.  

What changes would you like to see on campus as a result of your research?

Allison: The most important thing to encourage sustainable habit change is creating a social culture that supports sustainable living. There’s only so much that posters and education programs can do; it’s students who need to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. I would like to see the kind of culture on campus that encourages expanded participation in sustainable living and education - supported by the OES - but led by students.

Carlos: One of the recommendations I proposed is having compost collection in the dorms around campus. Given the amount food students throw out there’s a lot of food that ends up in a landfill.  I think we can really do some good by making sure the food that usually gets thrown out in dorms gets composted and turned into food for plants instead. If we can cut back on the amount of waste we produce as a campus that’d be great, but if we can ensure that the waste is being put into constructive things like recycled materials or plant compost, then I think that’d be a great accomplishment. 

Thank you for your hard work! 

Trip to the Landfill!

By Allison Tennant

Wonder where your trash goes after you throw it away? Summer interns Carlos and Allison had some questions too, so they took a trip to the landfill where our trash is sent, located an hour away in Southbridge. Carlos and Allison met with Tracy Markham, the Site Manager at Southbridge Landfill, for a tour of the facility. The landfill is owned by Casella Resource Solutions and is the most regulated landfill in Massachusetts. The interns got to see a massive generator that collects and burns methane to power 2,000 homes in the area.

Methane-to-Electricity Generator

Methane is captured by pipes and sent to this very loud generator to be burned for electricity.

Then they saw all of the layers that go under a landfill and the giant tanks that collect leachate and prevent contamination.

Landfill Layers

 A model of the many layers put under a landfill for protection built by Markham.

They even stood on one mound of trash and watched another one being formed. The process is very regulated with many water-spraying dust prevention trucks and bull dozers with giant wheels to compact the trash.

Open Landfill

 The view of many vehicles forming a new trash mound.

Both were surprised at how little the whole area smelled, at least from their vantage point upwind. However, the landfill only has two years of life left, so let’s reduce the amount of trash we send there by recycling and composting.

Class of 2016 Student Work Profiles

Anna Berglund and Suhasini Ghosh, c/o 2016, were the first two student workers in the Office of Environmental Sustainbility. Before they graduated, we asked them to share some tidbits about their sustainability-related experiences at Amherst College.

                                Anna Berglund                                                               Suhasini Ghosh

senior_photos

What was your favorite sustainability-related experience on campus?

Anna: When I was a junior, GAP was working on our divestment campaign and we put together a week of events intended to bring awareness and support to the issue. It was really rewarding to help organize some of the events and to see the support that was created on campus through these efforts. I have also really enjoyed being a part of the Green Games and I hope that it continues to happen into the future. It's great to see first year dorms uniting around the cause of reducing energy use.

Su: My favorite sustainability-related experience on campus has been the “Amherst All-In” campaign. It was really exciting to engage with such a large amount students who were a part of various groups on campus. Hearing such different perspectives and stories in relation to the environment was eye-opening. It has been very motivating for me to still see students wearing their "Amherst All-In" shirts displaying their support for environmentalism. The envrionment is something that we all hold a stake in and this campaign was proof that we can come together to solve these issues no matter our backgrounds. 

 

What advice would you give to current students who are interested in the environment?

Anna: The good news for current students who are interested in the environment is that Amherst is rapidly expanding the number of avenues through which students can pursue those interests. When I started at Amherst the only environmental student group had just a few members and a singular focus, but now there are a plethora of clubs, groups, and jobs on campus that relate to environmentalism. I would encourage any student interested in these topics to try out a range of different organizations and find one (or many!) that fit their passion and skills. Talk to Laura in the OES about what opportunities there are and how to get involved. For summer internships, the college will often fund unpaid internships with organizations that are environmentally-focused. And finally, if there is an issue or cause that isn't being addressed, starting your own organization is a really good idea. I have always been really impressed by the initiative taken by individual students to implement new projects that address previously overlooked problems. 

Su: My advice is to keep pursing it! This stuff matters and affects us all. We are the generation that can make a difference. At Amherst, we are lucky enough to have various resources available to us at all times. Use these resources. If you have an idea, tell a professor, staff member, or Laura (Director of the OES). There are people who will listen to you and discuss how to make your ideas a reality. Do not think that your idea is not valuable or your thoughts should go unheard. There are always other students, staff or faculty members around you who share your ideals and together change can be made. 

 

What would you like to see the College or the OES do in the future to improve and raise awareness of sustainability on campus?

Anna: I had the pleasure of developing the pilot Eco-Reps program this past year for the first-year dorms. I would love to see this program expanded and improved upon in the coming years. Having student representatives in all the dorms who can answer general sustainability questions and raise awareness would be a great asset to our residential life. The OES has done a fantastic job of supporting this program and I think it can be built into something really awesome. I would also love to see powerful student activism on campus that pushes for ambitious institutional change when it comes to environmentalism. I think that the college can leverage its privileged position as an elite educational institution to create change that resonates beyond the confines of the campus. Finally, I am excited about the prospect of the college's first climate action plan, which is being developed by a dedicated coalition of Amherst College community members led by Laura. I hope this plan is ambitious and that the college is committed to achieving whatever goals are put forth in the plan.

Su: I would like to see the College keep supporting the Office of Sustainability in the upcoming years and provide more funding and opportunities for speakers, Environmental Studies professors, and the Environmental Studies Department itself. The Environmental Studies Department and Sustainability Office are both fairly new to campus, but have already made such a positive impact and have garned much student engagement. I would love to see the OES keep engaging students of all different backgrounds and interests. You do not have to be just an Environmental Studies major to be interested or work in this field! I hope that student led environmental activism continues on this campus and these students feel like there is a support system for their efforts. There have been many great intiatives already and I truly hope that it continues. 

 

Where do you hope to be in the next five years?

Anna: In the next 5 years I hope to be working in environmental policy. I am really interested in local government and how communities can create positive change for themselves. I would love to be working as a community activist on climate change and other environmental and social issues. 

Su: In or finishing up grad school! In the future, I want to work in environmental policy as I have a keen interest in environmental justice and the intersections of social and environmental issues.