Students Support Referendum to Raise Fees for Green Projects

During the SGA elections, which ran from Apr. 13-16, students voted on a referendum to raise their Student Government Association (SGA) fees $10 so that the SGA can fund green/sustainable initiatives on campus via a revolving loan. SGA Parliamentarian Louis Ritzinger said that with just over 30 percent voter turnout, the referendum passed “overwhelmingly.”

The idea for the referendum came from SGA president senior Justin Perry, Queen Anne senator first-year Becky White, and Caroline senator sophomore Danielle Doubt. After tabling and conducting surveys to see how much people would be willing to pay for green energy and what they would want the money to fund, they sent their results to Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall.

Perry said that they found that some students were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for green energy. Regarding the nature of the projects that students wanted to fund, 60 percent of students wanted their money to go entirely to green campus projects, 39. 5 percent wanted a combination of green projects and renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset emissions, and 0.5 percent wanted only RECs (which is what green money goes to now). “Green campus projects” might look something like geothermal heat pumps for the townhouses, the residents of which pay their own utility bills.

Perry said that 2007 was a “watershed year” for devoting money to green energy, and that the College was a national leader in environmentalism. He said that other campuses were catching up, but St. Mary’s would continue to lead.

“At St. Mary’s, we pride ourselves on being on the cutting edge,” he said.

Current Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall was involved the first time that a green energy referendum passed, and said that “hearing that “[the current referendum] passed was really exciting…It sends a lot of messages.” Now, he says that he and the administration will be working with the SGA to figure out how to put the money raised to the best use.
Perry said that “renewable energy can save the students a lot of money.” Sustainability was part of Perry’s platform when he ran for SGA president, which led him to get involved and propose a “modest increase”–originally five dollars–in fees to fund green energy. According to Perry, the SGA had originally considered making the referendum a proposal to raise fees $20, but when this was put to a vote, it was defeated by one vote in favor of raising fees $10. Class of 2010 president Chris Rodkey cast the tie-breaking vote.

“I fully support green initiatives, especially upgrades that will save the College – or more specifically the students – money,” he said. “I just think the timing of this was off on this one.” Rodkey did not support the $10 fee increase as a whole, either, for the same reason.

Waring Commons Senator junior Zachary Agatstein agreed. “Students are already paying massive amounts of money to come here…While $10 is not a massive sum of money, it strikes me as somewhat cruel to ask students or their families to contribute yet more money at a time when many are struggling to pay their tuition bills or are struggling to make basic ends meet. Don’t get me wrong; I think that green initiatives are important. It’s something for which our campus is known. But now was not the right time.”
Still, Perry thinks that the fees will save the students money, at least in the long run.

“The SGA’s role is to properly steward student funds,” he said. “This is a responsible way to do that.”

Student Chronicles A Day in the Life of the Campus Farm

The community garden isn’t the only farming project in the area. A plot at Chancellor’s Point is also being turned into a farm through the environmental studies course “Leave No Trace,” according to Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin. In order to create this farm, students in the class and in the Chancellor’s Point Project club will be doing independent projects under the umbrella “Permaculture” approach, which is a way of designing farms and other agricultural systems that mimic natural environments. Senior Kate Pollasch designed the layout of the plot as her senior art project; in another senior project, senior Bryan Alexander is also building an outdoor kitchen next to the plot. The plot has just recently been cleared of Wisteria trees and invasive species that nevertheless have left the soil in good shape for farming. According to Benjamin, this plot is the beginning of what will hopefully become an entire environmental studies field school at Chancellor’s Point. Tilling and planting will begin very soon. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)
The community garden isn’t the only farming project in the area. A plot at Chancellor’s Point is also being turned into a farm through the environmental studies course “Leave No Trace,” according to Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin. In order to create this farm, students in the class and in the Chancellor’s Point Project club will be doing independent projects under the umbrella “Permaculture” approach, which is a way of designing farms and other agricultural systems that mimic natural environments. Senior Kate Pollasch designed the layout of the plot as her senior art project; in another senior project, senior Bryan Alexander is also building an outdoor kitchen next to the plot. The plot has just recently been cleared of Wisteria trees and invasive species that nevertheless have left the soil in good shape for farming. According to Benjamin, this plot is the beginning of what will hopefully become an entire environmental studies field school at Chancellor’s Point. Tilling and planting will begin very soon. (Photo by Kyle Jernigan)
Right off of Route 5, immediate South of Rosecroft Rd., lies a beige-brown house that is about as inconspicuous as one can imagine. Next to that house is a little plot of land that used to look just as unremarkable. Recently, however, it has experienced a transformation with the dedication and hard work of the Community Garden Club and volunteers, and is very quickly being turned into a vibrant campus farm. I had written about it, and talked to students and faculty about the coming project, but planting finally had started, and I wanted to go out there to see it myself.

After taking the very short bike ride (it’s also a quite reasonable walk from the campus center), the first thing I remember was being surprised at exactly how big the plot is; in farming terms a half-acre doesn’t sound like much, but it actually looked quite impressive, certainly worlds different from the little plot outside Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) that used to be the Community Garden. It also looked like quite a challenge, but by Thursday a patch of land had already been tilled, and according to Head of the Community Garden Club Nathan Beall summer squash, lettuce, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and more had already been planted. Seeing their leaves poke out of the soil, one could get a small impression of the hopes of what this would eventually become.

I learned from Nathan that the farm was being loosely based off the plans created by former Sustainability Fellow Rachel Clement, ’09. However the demands of growing plants mean that the plans must ultimately be flexible; members of the club are figuring out the real plot outline on the spot with (what seemed to me to be) great helpings of passed-along farming wisdom gathered from a myriad of sources, if not always from experience; for most of the people I talked to, actually coming out and farming was a completely novel.

Nathan also told me that Farm Days, which occurred April 7 and 8 to promote the farm, had netted the club a volunteer list of 160 and $169 in donations. It is this and money collected from the SGA that has so far funded the club; the former has, according to SEAC Vice President Aaron French, already gone to “hoes, hay, and tools”, whereas the latter, according to club’s advisor Kate Chandler, is to be used to buy special mushroom-enriched soil for (hopefully) improved plant growth.
Beall said that volunteers had come out “pretty much every day this week”, usually a couple at a time. However, the two days I was there (April 22 and 23) a surprising number of people showed up to help, trickling in over and after the scheduled 4:30 to 6:00PM loosely agreed-upon schedule. He added, “[the farm’s] worked well so far as a collaborative effort.”

For now, however, there was work to be done, and I decided to get my hands dirty with some manual tilling, a job French jokingly described as “prison work”. One wouldn’t think manual labor would be enjoyable, but there’s something very “Zen” about something as simple (if perhaps labor-intensive) as tilling, and the feeling of breaking up a big chunk of soil is almost cathartic. I could easily see how this could almost act as a meditation of sorts on one’s abilities to nurture growth and transformation. After a while, one starts to see his or her little patch of dry dirt with great effort turn into something that, “actually looks like you could plant something in it,” in the words of First-year Sarah Kenton. And when that happens, one cannot help but feel a little pride for the little contribution he or she has made to this big experiment in college student agriculture; I know I did.

My experience was fairly short, a little over an hour and a half of talking and tilling. I got the impression from members of the farm that this was kind of how it was going to be, a volunteer effort when you could work when you wanted and as you wished; it was refreshing to do nothing but just work with my hands outside in the beautiful weather, doing something rewarding but without the pressures of the normal school day.

After having spent longer than expected working, and feeling the pressures of my “real” work slowly returning to my awareness, I went back to campus to work on my Bradlee lecture article (also featured in this issue) in the air-conditioned enclave (sometimes dungeon) that is the Point News room. Somehow I thought I could work better, having had my time out in the garden to mull over things in my mind; the next time I get writer’s block, perhaps I’ll go back, just to “meditate” a little more on the subtleties of tilled dirt and green things.

SGA to Start Green Revolving Fund

A new bill passed by the Student Government Association (SGA) will allocate roughly $100,000 to a new fund for creating or implementing sustainable, energy-saving technologies and systems on campus. The bill, presented to the SGA by Matt Foerster, Lisa Neu, Danielle Doubt, Becky White, and SGA President Justin Perry, will create a fund for projects which save energy, and in turn money, for the school. The majority of the money saved will then go back into the fund. Students will be able to propose and modify projects using the fund.

“[Sustainability Fellow] Shane Hall had heard about revolving load funds at Macallister [College], and he helped me a lot in the gestation period,” said Perry. “We continued to run with it because I got really excited about it and so did a lot of people.”

In their presentation to the SGA, the group used the high return on investment which other schools see on their revolving funds. However, not many schools have revolving funds, and by investing the amount of money the SGA is currently, St. Mary’s College will jump onto the list of the top ten largest revolving funds at any college in the country.

The SGA will invest $100,000 in seed money, which will come from a variety of sources. Because of the SGA’s recent fiscal conservatism, it has a surplus to draw on. The SGA will also spend money from the Green Energy Allocation fund, a $25 per-student per-semester fee, which will reduce the amount spent on Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

“I’m excited that the SGA has taken on this issue with such enthusiasm,” said senior Elizabeth Brunner. “It’s been a really amazing journey from when we passed the REC bill to now.”

Two governing bodies will control the allocation of funds. The fund will be broadly managed by an oversight board of mostly faculty, and a committee composed entirely of students. The structure will be similar to that of the Student Investment Group (SIG). The oversight board will include a representative from the Energy Performance Contract, which hires a private firm to audit energy-saving projects on campus, so that the two groups can work in tandem.

Two ideas that Perry discussed as being likely soon after the creation of Green St. Mary’s Revolving Fund (GSMRF) are reusable to-go boxes and solar trash compactors, which would noticeably reduce piles of trash outside the campus center which are currently problematic.

“Whenever you go outside there are massive piles of Styrofoam everywhere,” said first-year Michael Hullett. “St. Mary’s is not a green school.”

“We have a very evident trash problem on this campus,” agreed Perry. He pointed out that after Philadelphia put in place solar trash compactors, the city cut down on waste by 70% and was expecting to save $13 million over ten years. Implementing this same system on campus at a much smaller scale could save the college a similar percent of collection costs. The majority of the savings from that could then go back into GSMRF.

“I’ve spent most of my year securing the funding, I haven’t had as much time to plan projects,” said Perry.
“Solar is very expensive, that’s obviously one of our pie-in-the-sky goals,” he added.

GSMRF is likely to help the college get closer to reaching the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, signed by previous St. Mary’s President Margaret O’Brien and promising the college become carbon-neutral. The next step is to bring the proposal to Tom Botzman, the vice president of business and operation, whom Perry says thinks the GSMRF is a good idea.

“It’s really small steps,” said Perry. “GSMRF is a physical embodiment of acting responsibly. I hope that GSMRF will be a model for how small colleges can make a concerted effort to promote green energy.”

Note: the article published on April 12th, 2010 did not include Lisa Neu and Matt Foerster as sponsors of the bill. The article has been changed to include their names.

SMC Gets Serious About Organic Farming

Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin surveys the growth of seedlings in the community garden greenhouse. According to Benjamin, they will be transplanted mid-april. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Historic St. Mary’s City Administrator Mike Benjamin surveys the growth of seedlings in the community garden greenhouse. According to Benjamin, they will be transplanted mid-april. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

Great strides are already being made on an ambitious new campus farm project, which promises to change the way students look at agriculture and food consumption.

The original community garden, created as an SMP project, was originally a plot of land outside of Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) in which any student could “experiment,” according to the Community Garden club’s advisor Kate Chandler. However, its limited size, placement, and soil content made it far from ideal. “There was no space to teach gardening,” added Shane Hall, ’09, Sustainability Fellow and facilitator. The garden was also vandalized this past fall.

Because of these issues, and the growing sentiment of what Chandler called “concern about the food they eat and where it’s coming from,” a coalition consisting of students, faculty and staff including sustainability fellows Rachel Clement ’08 and Meredith Epstein ’08, the community garden club headed by Nathan Beall, and environmental studies students and professors started discussions last fall about acquiring new land for a larger community garden. Further investigations found open farmland in Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC), and HSMC “land manager” and Professor of Anthropology Daniel Ingersoll persuaded executive director of Historic St. Mary’s City Regina Faden to hold back around five acres for the garden, which will be leased at market prices. According to Sustainability Coordinator Christophe Bornand “[we] were always interested in how [this land] could be used for the college.”

Although the land has only just recently been leased, multiple projects are already underway to get the garden up and running. Much of this early momentum has been given through the assistance of both the Chancellor’s Point project, which built a Green House to store the early seedlings, and members of the community such as Frank and Christina Allen who provided heirloom seeds and other farming essentials. The SGA also provided funds to buy seeds and larger tools. As a result, the growing is already underway and seeds are already planted in flats in the greenhouse. Chandler said, “The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break!”

The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break! -Kate Chandler (Photo by Rowan Copley)
The oats are up two inches, and they were just planting it last week during spring break! -Kate Chandler (Photo by Rowan Copley)

According to both Hall and Chandler, the garden also has many academic applications. Hall said that when doing research members of the project had a “much harder time finding classes that wouldn’t benefit from [the Community Garden].” Classes currently offered in the environmental studies curricula, for example, could organize field trips to the garden as a learning opportunity. The garden also provides the impetus for many new possible classes that could take more direct advantage of the opportunity to farm. Hall said, “Because agriculture is essential to civilization, you can’t ignore food distribution and agriculture in a liberal arts curriculum.”

Produce grown in the garden could furthermore be sold to Bon Appetit in a “farm to fork” deal highlighting the garden’s potential. Chandler said, “Bon Appetit has been so supportive… [Director of Operations] Debi Wright has been an enormous help.” She added that Bon Appetit was “quite willing” to buy food from the garden, and plans are currently underway to get the garden certified to do so.

The garden, according to the announcement on the college’s sustainability web site (www.smcm.edu/sustainability/aboutfood.html), is meant to “Teach College and community members about sustainable agriculture while producing local, organic, nutritious food.” Foremost, the farm provides students the ability to actually learn how to farm, a talent that according to Hall is in short supply. Many students are coming to the realization that, “I’m 18 years old and I don’t know how to coax plants out of the ground,” said Hall. The garden also provides further experience to students already learning to farm on off-campus sites such as Even’ Star Organic Farm.

Students who want to get involved with the project can come to the farm days to take place April 7 and 8 in the Great Room, during which students can learn more about the project, how to get involved, and what sorts of produce the farm could provide. Chandler hopes students who have the time will also be willing to “jump in” on future opportunities to work part-time in the community garden, especially during harvest season. She said, “We recognize we need to get the word out, and we want the campus community to be excited about this.”

Campus Blacks Out for Earth Hour

During Earth Hour, members of the campus community had the opportunity to band together in multiple venues.
During Earth Hour, members of the campus community had the opportunity to band together in multiple venues.
On Saturday, Mar. 27, St. Mary’s students gathered for an hour and turned off all of their lights and electronics in honor of the energy conservation movement, Earth Hour.

Earth Hour is a worldwide movement sponsored by The World Wildlife Fund to try to promote energy conservation by encouraging the turning off lights and electronics for an hour. “Everyone is supposed to start at a local time, so that every hour another time zone is switching off their lights to save energy,” said first-year Paula Riner, the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) member who headed St. Mary’s Earth Hour preparations.

The purpose of Earth Hour is to show that small actions, such as turning your lights off for an hour, can have a very big impact on the environment when a large number of people participate. “More than just about awareness of energy consumption, the act of turning off lights for an hour is a united, high profile way to show worldwide understanding of and a commitment to climate change,” said SEAC member Emily Saari.

Here at St. Mary’s, Earth Hour began at 9 p.m. and there where a number of different activities for students to partake in during the hour. There was a campfire at the Waring Commons fire pit, BBQ at the Dorch Circle, and events on the Campus Center Patio, such as, live acoustic music, food, and coloring.

Before all of this could take place SEAC members, Residence Life, and Public Safety had to work together to make sure that as many lights as possible were turned off on campus and that students remained safe and had fun during the hour. SEAC members went around to the academic building checking light switches and practicing for Earth Hour.

According to Riner, they also asked faculty and staff members to turn off all of their office lights before heading out on Friday. “We contacted the RHC’S and RA’s so they could organize activities, inform their residents, and put up flyers [in their halls],” said SEAC member Johanna Galat.

While the ‘official’ Earth Hour only took place for an hour, SEAC members hope that students will take something away from the experience and look at the bigger picture. Many do think it will make students more aware of their energy usage. “When we turn off our lights and realize how much we can still do, we realize that much of the lighting we use is extraneous,” said Galat.

Students Go against the Flow to Take Back the Tap

Each bottle in the water bottle curtain cost between $0.12 and $5.00. (Photo by Dave Chase)
Each bottle in the water bottle curtain cost between $0.12 and $5.00. (Photo by Dave Chase)

This semester, the students of St. Mary’s Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) are running the “Take Back the Tap” campaign in order to raise awareness about the problems associated with bottled water. The campaign goal is to eventually remove bottled water from the College campus store, the Daily Grind, and the Green Bean.

To kick off the campaign, SEAC hosted a screening of Flow on Oct. 14 in Cole Cinema as part of the National Day of Action. “Flow,” directed by Irena Salina, is a documentary that seeks to determine whether anyone ought to own water. “Flow” explores the “World Water Crisis” and, according to the movie’s Web site, “builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.”

In the days following the screening, SEAC members tabled in the campus center, asking students to sign a petition to get the Daily Grind to stop selling bottled water. With a “water bottle curtain” made of 136 salvaged water bottles (some pulled from recycling bins) hanging behind them, SEAC members spouted facts about bottled water to students heading to and from the Great Room. Coupons for 20 percent of reusable water bottles from the campus store were available for those who signed the petition.

SEAC also placed flyers across campus in many of the residence halls announcing the campaign. The flyers contained facts on bottled water and pointed out that although it may be more convenient to grab a bottle, the negative impacts of bottled water include taking water from communities that depend on it, polluting the environment during the production of plastic, contributing to global warming by transporting bottled water over great distances, and irresponsibly disposing of billions of empty bottles.

Junior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, a member of SEAC, was in charge of publicity art work for the campaign, including making the water bottle curtain. He said, “On average, bottled water is 800-5,000 times more expensive than tap water.”

Working on the campaign has affected the way in which Ruthenberg-Marshall views water usage, he says.

“I haven’t been using bottled water for well over a year, but this makes me even less inclined to use it,” he said. “More importantly, it has raised my awareness of water issues worldwide and the level of importance they should have on the environmental stage.”

Senior Bethany Wetherill, SEAC Co-president, said that getting bottled water off campus has been discussed since she arrived at the College three years ago. Over the summer, she interned at Food & Water Watch (F&WW), a national non-profit consumer advocacy group, and the group behind the national Take Back the Tap campaign. She is currently working as a liaison between F&WW and the College so that SEAC can use F&WW’s knowledge and resource base for the College campaign.

“Basically, we’d like to see a drastic reduction in the amount of bottled water on campus,” she said, “ideally meaning that the school stops selling bottled water; the students, faculty, and staff stop buying bottled water; [and] people are more informed about their water, where it comes from, what’s in it, and what they can do to support clean tap water for their community and others.”

Interested students can attend SEAC meetings every Wednesday at 9 p.m. in Goodpaster 117.

Students Plant ‘Smoking Hot Sycamores’ and Other Trees around Campus Paths

Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)
Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)

If there’s one thing that can be said of St. Mary’s students, it’s that we don’t lack concern for the environment.  While the rest of the community was huddled inside early Saturday morning avoiding the cold, rainy weather, about 15 students met at the Campus Center to take action and support the environment by getting their hands dirty planting trees.

The project of planting 250 native trees around campus was sponsored by EcoHouse, the Sustainability Committee, the Grounds Crew, the Critical Area Commission, and the Office of Planning and Facilities.  The planting was part of the College’s Buffer Management Strategy, which specifically works to make the College have ecologically sound buffers while also preserving important campus viewsheds.

Emily Saari, a sophomore EcoHouse member, helped bring the project into fruition when she proposed the idea to Dan Branigan, the Director of Design and Construction on campus.

“I suggested it as a way for EcoHousers to get credit for a community outreach project, and he was very open to the idea,” said Saari. “It’s really good to see it getting off the ground.”

The students helped plant trees in three locations across campus: below the grassy hill across from the campus center, around the pine forest beside Queen Anne, and in the small field beside the path to Dorchester.  Upon arrival, students were given shovels, potted saplings, and directions on how to properly plant the American sycamores, dogwoods, and other types of native trees.  In the end, the rainy weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise since it made the ground soft for digging, and the better-than-expected student turnout allowed the project to be completed an hour earlier than planned.

Senior Liahna Gonda-King helped plant five trees with Senior Cynthia Lawson for the project.  She said, “It’s really nice that our campus is actively trying to sustain the environment instead of just talking about it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by all in attendance, eager to improve the campus’s environmental health.  Senior biology major Stacey Meyer said of the project: “They’ve been doing so much construction on campus lately, it’s nice to see some greening making up for it.”

Knowledge of the tree-planting project was spread by Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall, who rallied support for the initiative with his all-student emails.  In them, he stressed the importance of greening the campus.

“These trees will help shore up our shorelines, improve our storm water management, create more habitats for native organisms and make our campus even more beautiful than it already is,” his email said. “Think of how cool it will be when you come back 20 years from now and say to your kids/spouse/in-laws, ‘I planted that smoking hot sycamore right there, and that radical eastern redbud over yonder.’”

Regarding his personal view of the project, Hall said, “I was excited to say the least, and anxious to help get more people involved and get the plants in the ground!”

Hall said that the native trees that were planted have evolved in the campus ecosystems, and therefore use the water and nutrient availability of the area optimally and are resistant to natural diseases and pests. According to Hall, they will provide the best habitat for other organisms and should do very well. He said that naturally there will be some “thinning” as the trees establish themselves, but “we took that into account when planting them.”

Earth Day Fair Educates Students

Senior Guy Kilpatrich rides the power generating bicycle at the Earth Day Fair. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Senior Guy Kilpatric rides the power generating bicycle at the Earth Day Fair. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

Despite the overcast and sporadically rainy weather, students gathered last week to celebrate their home, Earth. The Earth Day Fair, sponsored by the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), the Sustainability Committee, EcoHouse, and the St. Mary’s River Project, sought to teach passersby how to live in a sustainable manner and ways to promote environmental change.

Using the lure of a bike powered music generator and pinecones on strings, the Earth Day Fair brought students to tables set up under the balcony of the campus center this past Wednesday. EcoHouse had a table set up with tips for waste reduction, how to save energy and water, and what products and companies are good or bad for the environment.

As she handed out tips for sustainable living, sophomore Laura Sipe said, “We’re just trying to get people to do things we do every day at EcoHouse.”

There were also several run by SEAC members. One table had letter writing materials for writing to Congressman Steny Hoyer. The letters were to ask Hoyer, the representative of Maryland’s fifth Congressional district and House Majority Leader, to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

This bill proposes support for clean and renewable energy, more efficient energy use, a limit on emissions of heat-trapping pollutants, and promotion of green jobs and a clean energy economy. Students were encouraged to write to Hoyer to pass this legislation and to express the importance of the bill to them.

Students had a range of styles for their letters, from pasted magazine cutouts to a traditional handwritten letter, but they all expressed similar messages. While writing his letter, sophomore Jimmy O’Keefe said, “I want this to pass, and I think it’s time for something new in America.”

Several members from SEAC also traveled down to Washington D.C. on Thursday and Friday for the Congressional hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Students from St. Mary’s and other schools around the country convened in D.C. to show their support for the bill and talked to members of Congress to lobby them to vote for the bill.

Back at the Earth Day Fair, students could make birdfeeders out of pinecones smeared with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed. The pinecones were attached to strings so students could hang them from trees and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Next to pinecones was the generator run on bike power and hooked up to speakers so that an iPod could play music. The bike-generator contraption was fashioned by seniors Guy Kilpatric and Yang-Yi Chen and junior Paul Parzynski.

Sophomore Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, who helped organize the Earth Day Fair, was taking pictures for a photo petition organized by the Energy Action Coalition. Photos showing student support of environmental action and awareness were taken to be sent to Congressional members.

The St. Mary’s River Project, an organization that teaches environmental awareness to children in the College community, was also represented at the Earth Day Fair, spreading it’s message of education and action.

Earth Day is celebrated in the U.S. every year on April 22. It was started in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. It is a day dedicated to education and appreciation of the environment and to raise awareness about environmental issues.

Students Save Endangered Trees

St. Mary’s students collaborated with Historic St. Mary’s City to plant trees on Mattapany Road. (Photo by Dave Chase)
St. Mary’s students collaborated with Historic St. Mary’s City to plant trees on Mattapany Road. (Photo by Dave Chase)

Several weekends ago St. Mary’s students in conjunction with Historic St. Mary’s planted chestnut trees on Mattpany Road, behind the Artist house.

“The American Chestnut tree was one of the most indigenous trees in the American forest. Sometime in the 20th century a blight was introduced–a fungus that kills the trees,” said junior Kyle Wichtendahl, who became involved in the project when doing a research project for his Post and Beam Class.

There have been many efforts to restore the chestnut tree by scientifically cross breeding the American Chestnut with the Japanese Chestnut to try and create an immunity within these new American Chestnuts that will leave them un effected by the blight.

Historic St. Mary’s was given several seedlings to plant and monitor to see if this new cross breeding method has worked. “ Essentially 50 seedlings from mother trees [were given to Historic St. Mary’s] who are responsible for monitoring them and seeing how they grow,” said Wichtendahl.

Those who are monitoring the trees will not know if they have developed an immunity until several years from now. “ We won’t know if we were successful for some time because the blight doesn’t attack until the tree reaches maturity,” said Wichendahl.

Usage of Solar Panels to Cut Energy Costs

One reason St. Mary’s is not your run of the mill school is that students have a real say in a lot of the decision making that goes on (depending on the area of course).

In the past year alone, amongst other initiatives, students have spearheaded movements to change the controversial “protest policy” in “To The Point,” as well as plans for a “footbridge,” and voted to give much needed monetary assistance to departments ailing from the budget cuts forced by a time of economic uncertainty.

But the ailing economy is not entirely to blame for our school’s current monetary troubles. It is my opinion that we spend too much on dirty energy that drives up costs and pollutes the planet.

If St. Mary’s wishes to retain and augment its status as an exemplary education that is affordable to a wide spectrum of people, we must kick the fossil fuel habit.

With money we spend purchasing energy that poisons the air, the water and heats the globe, we could be hiring new professors, offsetting the recent tuition and student fee hikes or purchasing first- rate lab equipment.

The Campus Sustainability Committee, as well as the Office of Facilities, and concerned students, have identified a myriad of ways we can convert to clean, renewable energy sources for our campus while also saving the college money by reducing volatile energy costs.

One of these projects that could be “shovel-ready” by the end of this year is the installation of solar water heating systems on one or more of the dorms. If you have ever left a garden hose outside during the summer for a while then squirted the water, you know the water gets HOT.

That’s basically how solar water heating works. We heat water with the abundant, free energy of the sun, and use it for showers, washers, sinks, etc.

While the initial cost is considerable, the money we will save by not buying oil will pay for the system within three to five years of the installation, and continue to save us for over a decade after that.

This will end up saving close to $200,000 in student fees if we install solar water heating on each dorm.

A group of students from Dr. Kung’s Math of Social Change course are applying for a Talon Grant from the SGA to install solar water heating on one or more of the dorms.

Please email your SGA senator to say you support initiatives such as this that save us money and make our school more sustainable. You can also email your campus administrators like Tom Botzman (Vice President of Finance) to say you want to see the campus invest wisely in clean energy instead of toxic assets and dirty fuels.

-Shane Hall ‘09