College Recovers, Looks Ahead after REC Setback

St. Mary’s students are looking towards a future of on-site renewable energy after a mistake by the college’s energy provider left 40 percent of the college’s energy consumption uncovered by Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

These new plans arose after the College found that the Southern Maryland Energy Cooperative (SMECO) had neglected to read the largest of St. Mary’s four energy meters for the past three years. The mistaken bills that SMECO sent the College were used to judge the amount of RECs needed to offset the College’s energy use. The College was left with a substantial hole in its REC coverage.

To counteract this, plans have been put in place to cover this year’s REC deficit, and to cover the College further in the future.

According to SGA President senior Sunny Schnitzer, funds from the SGA’s special carry-over budget, which contains excess tuition money not spent on the College’s operating budget, will be used to buy enough RECs to cover the College’s energy consumption for this year.

The rest of these RECs will be bought from Clean Currents, as were the majority of RECs bought within the past three years. Clean Currents is a Rockville, MD organization that provides wind power-based RECs, which are some of the most environmentally friendly credits available. According to Schnitzer, however, buying a contract with Clean Currents to cover all of the College’s energy use is too expensive for the long-term.

For next year, members of the Sustainability Committee, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), Student Government Association (SGA), and other concerned students plan to use this debacle as an opportunity to move away from RECs and towards on-site renewable energy.

According to Sustainability Coordinator Christophe Bornand, the first step to be taken next school year will be to change the college’s REC provider from Clean Currents to cheaper providers that can be bought through SMECO. According to Sustainability Fellow Meredith Epstein, ‘08, this will save the College more than $3 per megawatt, and will leave around $30,000 in the green energy fund for on-site projects. However, Schnitzer pointed out that the Sustainability Committee and the SGA were still getting quotes from different companies, and that no particular provider has been decided upon.

Going with less expensive RECs, however, means that the College will be investing in forms of energy that, although renewable, are still somewhat toxic to the environment. According to Bornand, there is some concern that cheaper RECs may generate their own pollution and may not offset electrical consumption properly.

According to Sustainability Fellow Rachel Clement ‘08, although less expensive RECs may not be as environmentally-friendly, the savings provided by the change to cheaper RECs will go into research and development on new forms of renewable energy that could eventually take the College completely off the traditional power grid. Clement said that solar hot water heating, which consists of solar thermal collectors and fluid systems to move the heat from the collector to its point of usage, is “at the front of our discussion.”  She also said that other possible on-site renewable energy sources could include small or large wind turbines or larger solar arrays to complement the solar panel currently on the roof of the library.

However, both Fellows also acknowledge that many steps must be taken before on-site renewable energy can be implemented. Clement said, “We have to research what is the most viable form of renewable energy for St. Mary’s.”

There is also the matter of paying for these forms of renewable energy, which will at first take more money than the green energy fund can provide. Any viable on-site renewable energy option would require a significant investment, but would pay for itself in time. Epstein said, “People tend to think what’s feasible is what’s immediately the most economical, but we’re talking about things that will cost a lot up front and pay us back really fast, and will save us a lot of money in the future.”   Because of this, the Sustainability Committee has been researching different possible grants that could help pay for this on-site power generation.  Epstein also said, “It’s being talked about that we would offer to different organizations and firms that St. Mary’s be used as a test site for new renewable technologies, so that we actually wouldn’t have to pay for, for example, the latest edition in high-efficiency solar panels.”

Regardless of the path St. Mary’s takes on its way to energy independence, the goal is still daunting. “[Energy independence] is not going to happen in the short term,” Bornand said. “It’s going to take a lot of time.” However, if the college ever does become energy independent, it will be steps like this that makes it happen.
“I think [energy independence] is possible, and that we’re on the right track,” said Schnitzer.

All who would like to have their input heard on the issue of on-site renewable energy can send ideas and feedback to sustainability@smcm.edu.

Tech Services Reveals New Plans

Despite many existing and perceived roadblocks, Campus Technology Support Services (CTSS) is continuing to work to improve and expand upon campus technology.

Many of the ongoing improvements for the CTSS center are for the St. Mary’s Web site and the new Portal.  Before the end of semester, it will be possible to pay tuition and fees online, increasing the functionality of the Portal, which already has financial aid, registrar, and the core curriculum available along with a personalized format. “This is just the beginning of what the Portal can and will be,” said Assistant Vice President for Academic Services Mark Heidrich. Beginning in 2009, Smartnet will be completely replaced by the Portal.

Recently, Heidrich and Integrated Student Services Administrator Nick Tulley set up stations at the Green Bean and Daily Grind at peak hours to aid students with potential Portal difficulties.  However, most questions targeted specific registration issues, rather than problems with the Portal, which for the Portal was “a good sign,” said Heidrich.

“It seems to me that most users find [the Portal] intuitive and are able to get around without assistance.”

As for the school Web site, “all work is done behind the scenes until everything is ready to go up,” said Director of Publications Lee Capristo. For example, though only three club Web sites are currently online, ten more are in development.

The CTSS also works with academic departments to train users in the Content Management Structure (CMS) of their department links, allowing them to keep their content updated as needed. While the CTSS admits that the Web site is too large to be updated by only their administrators, they are looking into an overview process to ensure more up-to-date links.

Other areas of development include working with students, faculty, and the administration to provide desired technology on campus.

There may soon be a “five minute stop” computer in the library to allow students to quickly print out documents or check their emails, which interested students recommended and which Dean Bayless is investigating. Increasing the number of 24-hour computer labs is also a priority, though security issues such as the locking of academic buildings after midnight remains problematic for the labs currently in buildings such as Montgomery, Schaefer, and Goodpaster Halls.
Additionally, the CTSS is working with SGA Treasurer Jesse Lee to investigate expanding the campus’ wireless network to dormitories and is also working on improving technology in classrooms. The CTSS states that faculty are encouraged to apply via the administration for technology they feel will assist in education, so that “innovation isn’t hampered by existing technology,” according to Heidrich.

The CTSS is also a large provider of on-campus employment and training, and it hires many students. “We don’t expect our employees to stay that long, but they gain a lot of experience,” said Jeff Barnes, Associate Director of Enterprise System Services. With the Patuxent Naval Base nearby, offering many starting jobs with higher salaries, “we have lost technicians to the base but we’re not worse off,” said CTSS Director George Waggoner. “We give people a very good background. Some students graduate and come to work here.”

Students Speak Out Against California’s Proposition 8

One of the many flyers on campus that reference Proposition 8. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)
One of the many flyers on campus that reference Proposition 8. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)

St. Mary’s students are doing their best to keep the campus updated on national news that one might miss while living in a college bubble. A flier posted in Calvert Hall points out state legislation that many think denies civil liberties, informing the student body of news they might have missed. “NOTICE,” the flier reads, listing the recent bans on same sex marriage in vibrant rainbow ink, “Don’t give up! We are not and cannot be defeated!”

While many St. Mary’s students were celebrating the overwhelming outcome of the presidential election on Nov. 4th, protests on the West Coast demonstrated outrage rippling across the nation. The three most recent state bans on same-sex marriage were passed through on the same ballots that welcomed 44th President-elect Obama to the White House. This adds California, Arizona and Florida to the list of 30 states that have similar legislation.

The official ballot title of California’s Proposition 8 reads, “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry,” and amends the state’s constitution by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This amendment will overturn the state’s Supreme Court decision that allowed for same-sex marriages in May of this year.

Earlier in 2008, California Supreme Court justices ruled 4-3 that discriminating against sexual orientation was unconstitutional and violated citizens’ rights to marry. States have the right to decide if they will allow civil unions between homosexual couples, and also to decide if they will allow marriage. Now, ballot counts found that 52% of California voters supported Proposition 8, despite pleas from the gay community to support equality. To the nation’s surprise, religious loyalty resulted in 70% of Californian African American voters (many of whom voted for Barack Obama) voting for Proposition 8 to be passed.

The same people who were celebrating in May are now passionately protesting the backers of Proposition 8, most notably religious groups that campaigned using $35.8 million in funding. On Nov. 10, a protest in California gathered more than 400 people outside a Mormon temple to protest the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ huge support for the gay marriage ban. Pictures taken show same-sex couples holding signs that say “Justly Married” and chanting messages of equality. Additionally, in Sacramento, CA, another thousand protesters joined together in a peaceful, yet exasperated, crowd. A rally protesting Proposition 8 in Washington D.C on Nov. 16 illustrates the spread of this controversy across the entire nation.

A press release from the group Equality California, a proponent for “No on Prop 8,” echoes the sentiments of these members of the community. “We know people of all faiths, races, and backgrounds stand with us in our fight to end discrimination, and will continue to do so.”

Limiting rights worries citizens concerned about setting discriminating precedents; in the future more legislation that limits civil liberties could be passed in this manner. St. Mary’s students, known for their tolerance and acceptance, are generally opposed to limiting the rights of same-sex couples. “In America we put heterosexual relationships on a pedestal,” said junior Dan Schell, “but you can have a relationship with anyone.”

The majority of St. Mary’s students agree. Regardless of religious affiliation or political party, limiting rights raised concerns among the student body. “You can twist religion into anything you want it to be,” said Brittany Creeden, class of 2011. “You can spin it any way you want, so I think you really have to know what you’re supporting and why.”

As controversial as the limitations placed on gay marriage have been, the passage of Act 1 in Arkansas has caused even more of a stir. Act 1 outlaws unmarried couples from adopting or fostering children, applying to heterosexual and same-sex couples alike. The Family Council Action Committee (FCAC) was the primary supporter for getting this action onto the November ballot. This ban prohibits cohabitating unmarried couples and same-sex couples from taking in children, but single citizens living without a partner may still adopt.

According to the FCAC website, the primary reason for limiting adoption is to protect children from being used as a means to promote “the homosexual social or political agenda.”

Focus on the Nation, the organization which is fighting to say that the law is unjust, states that the FCAC’s idea of being “pro-family” is completely countered by their goal to limit prospective homes and loving adoptive and foster families.

Julia Rocha, a first-year student, believes that law should be “all about majority rule, but with respect to minority rights.” All citizens must decide if they believe civil rights are implied or if they are something we all must agree upon.

Construction Plans Meet with Resistance from Community and Students at CDA Meeting

College President Jane Margaret O’Brien spoke at the latest CDA meeting on Thursday, Nov. 13. The meeting was also attended by College representatives, students and community members. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)
College President Jane Margaret O’Brien spoke at the latest CDA meeting on Thursday, Nov. 13. The meeting was also attended by College representatives, students and community members. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)

On Thursday, Nov. 13th the Capital Design Advisory Committee (CDA) met to review upcoming design projects for St. Mary’s College. These projects include the Shoreline Protection Project, and status reports on Anne Arundel Hall, the Interpretive Center and the footbridge. While the meeting was informative, students and local community members of the Citizens for the Preservation of Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) felt their suggestions for alternative construction plans were not taken into consideration.

Dan Branigan, Director of Design and Construction for the CDA, introduced the Shoreline Protection Project, including Phase I and Phase II projects. The main goal of the project is to prevent erosion by constructing “living shorelines” along the River Center shoreline (Phase I) and the Route 5 shoreline (Phase II). These additions to the already present “living shoreline” along Route 5 will prevent erosion through the addition of rocks and native plant species. This project will effectively “enhance the environment while also meeting recreational needs,” said Branigan.

According to the CDA website, the cost for Phase I will be in the range of $600,000 to $775,000 and Phase II is estimated to cost $200,000 to $400,000. Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2009 for Phase I, and Phase II has not yet been scheduled.

Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman takes questions on upcoming construction projects at the college. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)
Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman takes questions on upcoming construction projects at the college. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)

Phase I of the Shoreline Protection Project also includes a new breakwater pier built to the right of the existing pier at the River Center. Wave screens attached underwater to the pier will lessen the wave energy and overall eroding effect waves have on the shoreline. Additions to the pier, including a boating ramp for students, will create recreational use plus the environmental benefits the pier provides.  Branigan also assured the attendees that the new pier would not obstruct motorists’ view of the river.
Controversy arose when College co-chair of the CDA, Chip Jackson, revealed the plan to demolish Anne Arundel Hall. The replacement building is designed to house archeological artifacts and will be built alongside another construction project, an Interpretive Center, or visitor center.

Sophomore Aaron French suggested the school should retrofit Anne Arundel Hall to minimize carbon emissions rather than constructing a new building. “Additional buildings provide a greater carbon footprint, and we should be trying to stay carbon neutral,” said French.

The new building and the Interpretive Center will be “Green Buildings,” to compensate for the energy used during construction, said Jackson. “Green Buildings” already on campus include Goodpaster Hall, Glendening Hall, and the River Center, resource-efficient buildings that promote environmental sustainability. “Our goal is to minimize the environmental impact of these projects,” said Jackson.

The plan to build a footbridge over Route 5 was also opposed by students and the community. The footbridge would be an elevated replacement for the crosswalk joining West Campus to the Campus Center pathway and is projected to cost $1.49 million. Students and community members against the footbridge pleaded for alternatives.
“What about digging a tunnel instead of another proposed eyesore?” said HSMC member Don Beck. “A tunnel would be much more costly,” stated Jackson.

Inexpensive alternatives proposed included better lighting at the crosswalk, traffic calming and crossing guards for the area, but these were not met with enthusiasm by the CDA members.

Senior Joanna Gibson captured the feeling of upset audience members. “The College is building much more than it needs to…growth for growth’s sake is unwise.”
William Clements, Commuter Senator, added that students who commute to school do not support the footbridge construction.

A conceptual design of the footbridge is scheduled to be ready by the next CDA meeting in February 2009. Community members were exasperated by the lack of information provided about the footbridge construction project at this meeting. “You have said we are going to talk about it in February,” said community member Tom Maday. “By then plans will have already been made.”

“The design process can shape and assess what the effects of construction will be,” said Jackson. “It is not to ignore comments but to assess the issues in a more thorough way.”

Audience members like HSMC member Brian Siebert still remain unconvinced and feel the decision is made. “This meeting was all tell. I don’t get the spirit that you want our input.”

Career Development Center Aids Students

A small group of offices tucked together in Anne Arundel holds the resources to help students figure out what they want to do after graduation. The Career Development Center (CDC) has a large number of assets to help students figure out a major, find jobs on or off campus, set up a summer internship, or make connections to get into graduate school or professional work opportunities. The CDC can also give advice about resumes, cover letters, and how to interview well.

The CDC helps prepare students with career planning. “We are a good first step,” CDC director Dana Van Abbema said. “We can help even if you don’t know what major you want to pursue.” The CDC has made many changes and improvements from the past to improve its services and accessibility to students.

One major project that the CDC has been working on is its website. Since last year, the CDC has performed a complete overhaul of its website. It has been reorganized and now has a plethora of resources to help students find jobs that fit their interests. The site, http://www.smcm.edu/careercenter, offers a timeline to help with planning, a self-assessment test to gauge which jobs students with certain interests take, and links to employment opportunity sites. The CDC has been working hard to make this information available online in order to reduce paper usage and direct students toward valuable tools related to “any and all aspects of career development,” according to Van Abbema.

The CDC has also been renovating its internship program. This program helps students find internships that can be taken for academic credit. Van Abbema said the program will be “substantially more rigorous and structured” so that students can, “extract as much learning as possible from the internship experience.” She said the new internship programs will be an “opportunity to link curriculum to work outside campus.”   There has also been a major push to put all information about the program online so that students will have better questions and be able to use time more effectively when they meet with the staff in the CDC.

Another improvement the CDC has been updating is Mentornet. Mentornet is a service provided by the office that can connect students to alumni and parents, so the students have connections in the professional work force. This network is currently being repopulated by the staff at the CDC and should be completed by the end of October. Director Van Abbema said Mentornet is a “huge asset for students.” Becoming a mentor is one way alumni can give back to the school if they don’t have the financial means.

The CDC also gained 60 new books, raising the library’s count to over 400 print resources. The new books are fully updated and offer information on what to do with a liberal arts major, how to construct a resume, and practice tests for the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, and LSAT.

The CDC plans on moving to their new location on the second floor of Glendening Hall upon the completion of that building. CDC Coordinator Amanda Walker and Van Abbema are very excited about the move feel “it will allow us to do lot of things we can’t do here [in Anne Arundel Hall, rooms 113 and 119].” In Glendening, the CDC will be more centralized and have better access to computers and other resources.

The CDC hosts events all year to assist career planning, such as Bookbag to Briefcase, a senior transition conference that helps students prepare for finding jobs. Alumni attend to support and present. This week the CDC is sponsoring Internship week, which features information sessions, information tables, and student panels on how to find and be successful with internships.

News in Brief

Bike Shop to Move Location

The Terrified Pedestrian bike shop is changing its location from Queen Anne Hall to the Waring Commons (WC) common room. According to senior Mike Benjamin, who spearheaded the shop’s creation and works there as a mechanic, the shop plans to move during the week before Thanksgiving break. Benjamin gave the following reasons for the move:

  1. It will facilitate bringing the services of the bike program to the most important user group, north campus residents who often opt to drive to class rather than walk or ride a bike.
  2. The WC space is more “public and marketable”: students drive by and walk by the WC common room constantly, as opposed to the current location, which Benjamin said is “effectively hidden.”
  3. The new location will be more spacious with a much larger outdoor working area.
    • There will be more room to store bikes indoor and outside, especially with the new fleet of bikes which the shop intends to use for renting to students.
    • There will be more open air and comfort, and better ventilation and atmosphere. The current shop has very poor ventilation, mold, water damage, and cockroaches.
  4. It will not interfere with residents’ lives:
    • The current space is used occasionally to play pool and ping pong.
    • The current space compromises the privacy of Queen Anne residences, and the safety of the building.
    • Attempting to increase use of the outdoor space would interfere with established programs for the residents of Queen Anne.
  5. It will be more economically viable:
    • In order to make the current space more compatible with residents, at least one card reader would need to be installed and shop hours of operation would need to be changed. This would limit important service time for students going to morning classes.
    • To get the WC space in working order, pulling up the carpeting and creating a partition between the resident assistants’ office and the common area are all that need to be done. No card access would be needed since shop workers could be given keys to the doors on the back side.
    • The WC space would also allow for hours of operation on the weekend.