What One Student Can Do

Excerpts from "Taking the University to Task," by William H. Mansfield III, World Watch magazine, May-June, 1998, p. 24, 26.

Megan Dunn Takes on the Power Plant

When Megan Dunn arrived at the University of Rochester, New York, in the fall of 1994 she was shocked to see a plume of black smoke pouring from the school's heating plant. University officials responsible for enforcing state air pollution standards replied vaguely to her inquiries, so she decided to take on the menace herself. During her sophomore year, Dunn mastered the intricacies of the university's coal-fired power plant. She met with the plant's chief engineer and toured the facility. She dug into the air-quality regulations. Through her research she found that the plant's fly-ash and soot emissions exceeded standards largely because two of the plant's filters were out of commission. Renovations to one of the filter bag houses alone would cost $400,000. And the state had been extending the university's permit for 14 years while the Rochester administrators sought to raise the money.

Aided by her English professor David Bliesh, Dunn detailed her findings in an independent research paper, then took the bold step of meeting with the university's top officials. "I couldn't keep my findings secret and wanted to see some changes," she said. "I made it clear that something needed to be done and that there was no more time for waiting." Her thoroughness and persistence paid off. The university made the necessary changes, including better management practices and more timely cleaning of the plant's filters, and soon the black smoke trailing over the campus disappeared. "Plant managers found that these rules did not have to be a burden, but that they could actually help them run the plant effectively," Dunn reported.

David Wedin Envisions a More Natural Campus

Two students use a campus natural area to capture insects for their required collections for an entomology course. Insects from student collections were used to begin a separate collection made solely of insects from the UW-Madison campus.

Natural-habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture projects at St. Olaf College in Minnesota got their roots in the early 1980s when undergraduate David Wedin, now a botanist at the University of Toronto, initiated an independent research project aimed at improving college-owned agricultural lands and natural habitat. Intrigued by his research and proposals for change, St. Olaf's administrators devised plans to consolidate and conserve the lands. His faculty advisor, Gene Bakko, helped obtain wetland restoration funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, and state conservation agencies.

By 1988 Wedin's groundwork study became an official college program that has to date restored 40 acres of native woodland, 33 acres of native prairie grasses, and 13 acres of wetland, with more restoration yet to come. Meanwhile, 44 acres of college-owned farmland have been converted from conventional to sustainable agricultural rotation.

Students at St. Olaf's have helped to plant and tend more than 20,000 tree seedlings and nursery stock trees. They work summers on maintenance projects and conduct feasibility studies on sustainable farming practices - helping fill an agricultural void in their liberal arts curriculum. They conduct individual and joint research projects on tree growth, plant biodiversity, and waterfowl migration and nesting. Several have presented their findings to the Minnesota Academy of Science. This reclaimed natural area is now the reality testing ground for the college's biology courses and provides training paths for the school's cross-country team. It also furnishes a substantial greenspace for the expanding local community.

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