Students Leaving Sustainable Mark through Projects, Coursework and Organizations

Wednesday, May 20, 2015
HERE students at recycling center.

Making An Impact: Several of the students and faculty in the inaugural 2011-12 Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering (HERE) program gather near Rose-Hulman's Recycling Center. The group includes (clockwise from front) senior Katelyn Stenger, senior Matt Hayes, senior Daniel Wang, senior A.J. Carr, English Professor Richard House, senior Braxton Carter, and Mechanical Engineering Professor Patricia Brackin. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Environmentally-conscious student engineers are changing the face of Rose-Hulman and paving the way for a more sustainable world.

Seeds for the institute's Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering (HERE) program were sown in the 2011-12 school year, and have grown to a program of about 40 first-year students annually. They live in the same residence hall and are enrolled in the same freshman-year classes, and have helped form environmentally-conscious organizations, such as a new chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), a national not-for-profit organization based mostly on college campuses.

Each HERE freshman group organizes a project to improve sustainability on campus. One group recommended changing light fixtures on the first floor of Olin Hall, a move that has saved electricity and improved visibility, says Mike Taylor, senior director of facilities operations.

"Without the HERE group pushing for that, it wouldn't have happened," remarks Taylor, adding that the project was so successful that it was later copied on the second floor.

Elsewhere in Olin Hall, HERE students improved the lighting system in the Department of Chemical Engineering's High Bay Laboratory. This project has reduced power usage while enhancing overall lighting in this large educational space, according to Taylor.

One of three HERE projects partially funded by a grant from Proctor & Gamble led students to build a greenhouse. Water for the plants inside the greenhouse comes from rainwater collected on the roof of the nearby campus recycling center and directed into an underground storage tank, another HERE project.

Then, this spring, HERE students helped the new ESW chapter create a sustainable green space that is designed to solve a ground water issue on campus.

"The students are using their education to help Rose-Hulman," says Taylor. "The HERE and ESW programs help students to think and work at the hands-on level. They learn from their projects and, at the same time, we learn from our students."

These projects allow HERE students to see the real-world impact of their ideas on people and places. That's a key part of the philosophy behind sustainable engineering, which tries to take the long-term cultural, political, economic, and environmental impacts of any project into account. That's important because "theory and practice don't always go together," says Joy Atzinger, a sophomore civil engineering major who helped a HERE group design the rainwater collection system for the campus greenhouse.

Several members of the original 2011-12 HERE group valued the yearlong experience as a way to meet like-minded students while broadening their thinking. They forged lasting friendships with other HERE students through taking the same classes, sharing residence life experiences, and participating in volunteer activities together. These events included removing honeysuckle from area parks, placing recycling bins around campus, and conducting energy audits of local buildings and homes.

"You go to class with the same people you live with," says Daniel Wang, a mechanical engineering major from the inaugural HERE group. "I thought that was really cool."

One of HERE's biggest benefits is learning how to keep an open mind about how people impact the world around them, and "thinking outside the box," says A.J. Carr, a senior mechanical engineering student. "Sustainability is a mindset, not just a field," she says.

Sustainable Class

Educating Sustainable Engineers: Jennifer Mueller Price, assistant professor of civil engineering, teaches a water resources engineering course. This is part of a growing curriculum covering topics in sustainability. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Two graduating mechanical engineering seniors, Katelyn Stenger and Keon Stallard, are the first Rose-Hulman students earning the institute's new certificate in sustainability studies, an interdisciplinary program open to all majors that enhances students' understanding of the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability. The curriculum provides an introduction to sustainability, environmental science, and environmental economics, along with elective courses in such areas as green chemistry, renewable energy, religion and ecology, water resources engineering, literature and the environment, and sustainable energy systems.

These courses and extracurricular activities allow students to develop communication, professional, and design skills that enable them to contribute to sustainability on local, national, and global levels.

Stenger is preparing for a postgraduate job with an architectural firm in which she will help design the façade on a LEED-certified skyscraper in New York City.

"The building is designed to maximize efficiency," she says. "It's going to change the skyline of New York."

Braxton Carter, a senior biology major, will be studying bioenergy at the University of Illinois next year, while Matt Hayes, a senior mechanical engineering major, expects to find ways to reduce waste through his role as an engineer working in the plastics industry.

"Sustainability is about making sure future generations can survive," Hayes says.

Rose-Hulman's HERE program was launched by several faculty and staff members who advocate sustainable development and engineering. Members of this group are Patricia Brackin and Richard Layton, professors of mechanical engineering; English professors Corey Taylor, Mark Minster, and Richard House; Rebecca DeVasher, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Jennifer Mueller Price, assistant professor of civil engineering; Erik Hayes, associate dean of student affairs; and Michael DeVasher, assistant vice president for enrollment management.