Paint the Farm Green

Nov. 5, 2010, 1:30 a.m.

While many Stanford students find enough of a challenge in trying to juggle a social life with academics, some like Christina Phillips ’11 add tackling sustainability on the Farm to their already-packed schedules.

Phillips, who was named a Stanford Undergraduate Sustainability Scholar (SUSS) last spring, has been designing her own project to analyze the feasibility of installing solar panels across the Stanford campus.

“Does it make sense to put in a solar installation on campus right now?” Phillips said, describing the purpose of her project.

Phillips has been working on her project with a team of 10 other students and other student-run sustainability groups, such as the Stanford Wind and Energy Project (SWEP).

She has been applying her academic background in economics to conducting cost-benefit and technological analyses, as well as exploring how the installation of solar panels would affect Stanford’s appearance and reputation.

Phillips and Iberia Elster ’13, were the first two students to receive the SUSS award, which was launched in 2010. The $2,000 stipend, funded jointly by the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) and the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, provides students with the opportunity to make their ideas about sustainability on campus a reality.

The new program’s co-directors, Mark Feldman and Kimberly Moekle, both lecturers in PWR, created SUSS not only to educate the campus on the importance of sustainability, but also to provide students with the mentorship and support needed to pursue their creative plans.

Along the way, SUSS provides the students with access to resources and connections with faculty, alumni and relative departments to enhance their individual projects.

SUSS is unique in its connection to PWR because it emphasizes the importance of effective communication of scientific research and findings.

“There is so much great science and policy, but oftentimes if that does not find the right way of being communicated or expressed, or does not find the right audience, then nothing happens,” Feldman said.

Broad, enthusiastic support for the program made getting funding “surprisingly easy,” Feldman said. The program kicked off in the spring of 2010, when students who already had sustainability projects in motion were encouraged to apply.

When Phillips and Elster first received funding, they began meeting as a group with SUSS co-directors one to three times per quarter. They also gave a public presentation in May at Lagunita Court.

The scholars are otherwise given the freedom to conduct their projects and try to apply their ideas to campus as they see fit.

The program is “sustainable” for the SUSS scholars, Feldman said, because it allows them to pursue their projects without having to take on extra academic units, providing students with a balance between independence and flexibility.

Phillips is excited about the program because it enables her to make an impact on her own while still engaging in a global problem.

“It is a great opportunity for us to not only become a part of the discussion, but also to do our own pieces of analysis,” she said.

Elster, an earth systems major, is focusing her project on both the fashion and sustainability of Stanford apparel. Building on research for improving sourcing of fabric, dies and labor practices, she is investigating a “sustainability label” for qualifying store merchandise. Her project is also looking into the possibility of organizing a clothing exchange on campus, Feldman said.

The SUSS co-directors hope to develop the program’s profile by building its online and media presence. Feldman and Moekle are planning to create a blog to document the progress of the scholars’ projects. They also hope to receive feedback from community members about what action they might be willing to take to be “greener.”

Feldman said SUSS has also considered asking students abroad to report on how they see the future of sustainability in other parts of the world.

The program not only works to make Stanford a leader in the fight for sustainability, but also provides an opportunity for the fresh ideas and “self-starting spirit” of Stanford students to have an impact, Feldman said.

Phillips described the program as an opportunity for students to be proactive about shaping the future of sustainability. As she put it, “If we are not asking the questions, then who is?”

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