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What do you get when you mix more than 1,000 students, faculty, campus sustainability eric2.jpgmanagers and others with three days' worth of interaction around sustainability issues? One inspiring conference - and, ultimately, a more sustainable campus and a more sustainable world. That was the goal of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its annual meeting in Los Angeles last month. Among the inspired - and inspiring -  were nearly a dozen individuals representing the University of Minnesota.

University of Minnesota presenters included, from the Twin Cities, undergraduate students Christy Newell and Eric Sannerud, sustainability education coordinator Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability director Amy Short, sustainability coordinator Shane Stennes, alternative transportation manager Steve Sanders and graduate alumna Elizabeth Turner. From Duluth, presenters included sustainability coordinator Mindy Granley sustainability associate Bryan French and graduate student Brian Bluhm.

Mercer-Taylor had these thoughts to share in the wake of the event:
Themes of leadership, social justice and connecting campus sustainability to community needs emerged from many of the presentations, workshops, tours and networking sessions attended by 10 University of Minnesota staff and students and nearly 2,000 other attendees, at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference in Los Angeles this year. A surge of interest in leadership programs connected to sustainability occurred this year. Faculty and academic  staff increasingly understand that the slow adoption of sustainability practices on campuses and in communities is not due to a lack of technical know-how or a failure to understand the urgency of changing practices around energy, water, food systems or purchasing. Rather, in many places, inadequate attention to institutional processes, governance structures, incentive systems, communications strategies and social psychology means that economically, socially and environmentally beneficial projects fail to happen. Preparing students from across disciplines to understand the human dimensions of sustainability, through leadership programs, could lead to critical culture change.

In a workshop on sustainability leadership hosted by Portland State University, University of MInnesota sustainability education coordinator I walked in and received an index card with the word "waterfall" written on it.  Each person held a card with the name of a natural object on it, such as a gull, a pond, a sedge, a muskrat, algae or sunshine.  The facilitators challenged participants to explain the leadership properties of their object to a neighbor. I talked with "sand," a student in British Columbia, about power, movement, aesthetic beauty and connecting one part of a system to another. "Sand" talked about his capacity to hold a shape, the imbedded history he held and the new creation he could become. The next step involved figuring out how two natural objects could interact. The conversation between waterfall and sand turned to glaciers, melting ice and large flows reducing to smaller flows. Puget Sound and the Mississippi River came up, naturally.  Human and natural systems flowed together in one conversation.  

After a tour of the LA EcoVillage, an intentional community with weekly shared meals, permaculture gardens, common workshop, arts areas and many other shared household arrangements, most of the sustainability faculty, staff and graduate students in attendance agreed that they would not choose the intense commitment to others needed for such a life. At the same time, nearly all agreed that an evening in the courtyard garden listening to the community's musicians; sitting with the painting, sculpture, pottery and garden art throughout; and absorbing the vibrancy of a multigenerational, highly creative, interconnected group of people would be a lot more fun and relaxing than the opening lecture session in the convention hall.

Photo of University of Minnesota student presenter Eric Sannerud courtesy of Christy Newell 

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Hoff published on November 15, 2012 10:27 AM.

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