Fellows Trip Reflection

Fri, 14 Dec 2018 12:58:00 CST  — by: Luke Williamson, C'21

The Sustainability Fellows, Sewanee students who develop projects with the goal of building and developing sustainability projects on campus, went to Asheville for a three-day trip filled with networking, peer-university interaction, and learning opportunities. Lauren Newman, C’18, Sustainability Fellow Coordinator, spent a lot of time planning and orchestrating the trip.

Newman, a recent graduate who participated in last year’s sustainability fellows trip to Furman University, explained the process for conceptualizing different aspects of the trip, like where to go.

“We kind of stumbled upon Asheville, honestly. I had no idea that there were so many Sewanee alumni there. Initially I was drawn to Asheville because I wanted our interaction to be with Warren Wilson College.”

Newman expressed that trying to coordinate with Warren Wilson proved difficult, but that she realized in the process what a good city Asheville would be to visit, because so many Sewanee alumni were there and working in sustainability-minded companies, nonprofits, and organizations. Nick Cookson, Sustainability Program Manager, then suggested reaching out to UNC-Asheville, said Newman.

“Nick knew Sonia Marcus, the Director of Sustainability at UNC-A. So I made sure to reach out to her prior to AASHE,” said Newman. AASHE stands for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, a conference Newman and others got to attend in October.

She elaborated, “I met with her at the AASHE conference, and went to her talk about decolonizing the farm to table dinner at UNC-A, and I knew this is where we needed to go.”

Newman was so confident about working with UNC-A because, after attending Marcus’s talk at AASHE, she saw that their sustainability program was not only active in terms of environmental sustainability, but also on sustainability’s intersection with social justice—an area that Newman is especially passionate about.

The Fellows spent a day at UNC-A, where they enjoyed seeing some of UNC-A’s sustainability efforts, including a "Bee Hotel" for native bees, not honey bees—and three of the gardens on campus. While at UNC-A, the Sewanee Sustainability Fellows also learned about the composting efforts on UNC-A’s campus, and the stormwater management infrastructure throughout the campus. 

Newman said that when she was reaching out to alumni to coordinate with, she was surprised and excited with their overwhelmingly positive reaction. Many of them, said Newman, wished that they could have participated in a program like the Sustainability Fellows program when they were students at Sewanee.

Asheville is, in many ways, the perfect city for sustainability-minded individuals. Newman said that this, too, was one of the reasons for going to Asheville for the trip.

“When I visited Asheville as a freshman, I was so impressed by the presence of sustainability, especially with the farm-to-table restaurants. That being said, I had no idea that the NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a big reason that Asheville is so sustainability-minded) station was based in Asheville. When I found that out—I knew it was perfect,” said Newman.

The itinerary for the trip was packed with all sorts of events—from meeting with UNC-A students to a bike tour of Asheville—and each one related to the wider goals of the trip. Even going to Asheville’s Sierra Nevada brewery related to sustainability because of how carefully its facilities are designed, as a platinum LEED-certified manufacturing center.

When asked how she would group the different goals of the trip, Newman said: “I would probably put a large emphasis on networking opportunities, as well as peer university interaction. As well as experiencing a city that embraces sustainability. And then, finally, relationship-building for the Fellows and myself and Nick, of course.”

Of the Fellows interviewed to recap the trip to Asheville, all mentioned relationship-building as an important and fun takeaway. Diego Rojas, C’19, Marketing and Communications Fellow, echoed this.

“The most memorable part of the trip was probably the electric bike tour and seeing how, even though it was rainy and wet, everyone was still having an awesome time,” he said.

But relationship-building was only one of many takeaways for the Fellows. Ashley Fox, C’19, Stormwater Management Fellow, discussed how she really enjoyed seeing how stormwater management is handled at UNC-A. There, cisterns collect rainwater that is used in the toilets in some of the buildings on campus.

Haley Tucker, Ethics in Sustainability Fellow, shared that her greatest takeaway was visiting with the Collider.

“My favorite memory was probably going to the Collider, and to see a business that was so centered around sustainability. It was interesting and encouraging to see that, and how collaborative they are—how they brought together so many different aspects of sustainability.”

For Diego, an International and Global Studies major, it was rewarding to see how non-environmental studies students can pursue sustainability after graduating.

“It's really motivating and eye-opening to see all of the different ways people are working to respond to climate change and sustainability problems. Sometimes as a non-environmental studies student it can feel like I don't have a lot of ways to work in this field, but this trip definitely turned me away from that belief,” he said.

He elaborated, “I'm not entirely sure how yet, but after this trip, I'm confident I can use the skills I do have to contribute to sustainability in one way or another.”

For Newman, one of the main highlights of the trip was witnessing the relationship-building between the Fellows.

She explained: “This work is frustrating. Getting people on board for projects and trying to really change how people live and go about their everyday lives? That’s hard work. But when you have others to share the pain and the successes with, it will help everyone be more effective in this work.”

As for the future Fellows trips, Newman is excited for the possibilities.

“I’m just looking forward to how it develops, and I hope that one day all of the Fellows will go and experience this. I think that it is a really beneficial experience for how it connects students with one another, and with a network of professionals in the fields that the respective Fellows are interested.”

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