Attending the AASHE 2011 Conference in Pittsburgh was a home-coming for me. My Master’s degree alma mater is Carnegie Mellon University, a Pittsburgh institution. While the entire UVM team scattered out to attend session after session I had the good fortune to catch-up with friends by night. As my old college buddy and I walked her dog she asked me how the conference was. I told the truth, “Well Katie, it’s exhilarating and exhausting.”
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) seeks to advance sustainability in higher education. AASHE allows for the higher education community to come together to share ideas and make progress in incorporating sustainability into the operations, teaching, and research of colleges and universities. The annual conference is a three day smorgasbord of sustainability sessions attended by almost 2,500 individual members. If it’s being pursued in higher education sustainability then it’s being presented on at AASHE. With sessions on sustainability officer project management, sustainability in the curriculum, eco-rep programs, waste management, student gardens, behavior change models, energy dashboards, systems thinking, and much more, there was no shortage of engaging subjects. The hard part was choosing which sessions to attend.
Exhilaration. Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx and MCG Consulting, inspired us to find innovative solutions to sustainable development by showcasing her work in underserved communities and climate change. Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, read an intricate poem on natural gas fracking - a poem filled with science and emotion. A heartwarming moment occurred when a conference participant with Turret’s Syndrome had the courage to speak to the assembly about her disease, reminding us all to step outside ourselves and consider the personal challenges faced by others. I particularly enjoyed a presentation by a business professor from the University of Virginia - “Would You Like Crabs With That? A Complex Systems Simulation of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” As the Professor kept our attention with an energizing delivery we were challenged to consider alternative methods of complex problem-solving such as role playing simulation models.
Exhaustion. About 3pm each day, on your way to the next session, you find yourself blankly staring out at the Allegheny River wondering… well, wait, you’re not wondering anything because you’re having trouble thinking at all. You know you’re tired when you are incapable of handling an incessant rogue alarm clock in the middle of the night. For that Kate, I apologize. And is it really a good idea to get up at 6am on the last day of the conference for an impromptu racquetball game with your old partner and a new friend? Good for your psyche, yes. Good for your immune system, no.
Integration. As a Networking Fellow with the Office of Sustainability my role is to help connect people and ideas. One of the projects I support is the Sustainability Faculty Fellows program, an initiative now in its third year that aims to increase sustainability education across disciplines on campus. Multiple conference sessions presented on methods for developing and promoting sustainability in the curriculum. The University of Maryland Chesapeake Project and Emory University’s Piedmont project are just two great models for infusing sustainability into the curriculum. Lessons learned throughout the conference can help shape the future path of UVM’s Sustainability Faculty Fellows program.
Success. It’s a good feeling knowing that your first AASHE Conference has brought you one step closer to understanding the ins and outs of sustainability in higher education. You’ve met a lot of great people, doing great work and you’ve got a little bit larger network to draw on. You’re reinvigorated about helping advance sustainability on your campus and excited to keep plowing forward on the path to a more just and balanced world.