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Student sustainability interns make the campus and community their research lab

Indiana University student interns studied climate change legislation, LEED building certification, sustainable computing and other issues in IU Bloomington's 2009 Summer Program in Sustainability. They conducted tree and wetlands inventories, examined prospects for recycling, and wrote proposals for car-sharing and managing invasive species.

As the third class of summer sustainability interns at IU, they laid the groundwork for the six-month-old IU Office of Sustainability to make progress on many fronts.

"While the interns conduct academic research," said IU Director of Sustainability Bill Brown, "their research lab is the campus and the community, and more often than not, their mentors are IU professional staff, not researchers or professors."

Marie Buckingham and Zach Brown

Interns Marie Buckingham and Zach Brown developed a proposal for a native prairie on campus.

The 18 interns, selected from 138 applicants, presented results of their projects Aug. 14 in the Indiana Memorial Union Frangipani Room, to about 150 faculty, staff, students and community members. Speakers included IU Vice Provost for Research Sarita Soni and Indiana State Rep. Matt Pierce. The mid-day event featured a gourmet meal produced by IMU Executive Chef Damian Esposito, using seasonal and locally procured menu items.

In student talks, SPEA graduate student Devin Hartman analyzed the pros and cons of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Informatics graduate student Susan Coleman Morse discussed the potential for greener computing practices, and undergraduate John Miller offered a crash course in federal climate change legislation.

Other interns presented their results with posters. For example, Nora Kayden explained how she worked with Sodexo food-services managers at the IMU and the Library Cyber Café to improve food-service sustainability, with a focus on energy savings, composting, recycling, local food procurement, integrated pest management and green chemical use. Zach Brown and Marie Buckingham developed a proposal for installing a native prairie at a 12-acre field on the east side of campus.

Nora Kayden

Nora Kayden worked on sustainable food practices at the IMU.

In addition to carrying out their projects, the interns met for a weekly seminar and worked on the Greening of the City-County Building project in Indianapolis.

"Of all the initiatives that the task force and now the Office of Sustainability have undertaken, by far we're most proud of the internship program," said geological sciences professor Michael Hamburger, who co-chaired the Campus Task Force on Sustainability that led to the Office of Sustainability.

A video about the interns, produced by sustainability communications intern Andy Davis, a SPEA graduate student, can be seen at:

Brown said a number of intern projects have been or are being implemented. Intern projects brought about the IU Energy Challenge, which engaged 10,000 students and saved the campus 709,211 kilowatts of energy; an E-waste Collection Day that recycled more than 700,000 pounds of computer and electronic waste; and a School of Education project that reduced energy use by almost half by putting computers into "sleep mode" overnight.

While some projects result in recommendations that can be implemented, Brown said, many consist of research designed to develop a complete picture of sustainability on campus and establish metrics for measuring future improvement.

"It's tremendously useful for me to go into a policy meeting and be able to cite real facts and figures to help move things forward," Brown said.

Brown credited the interns with doing high-quality research that will boost the credibility of initiatives that the Office of Sustainability will carry out.

"One of the things we have to leverage is trust," he said. "If we can build trust and build people's confidence, they will be more comfortable moving forward."

The IU Office of Sustainability will soon be inviting applications for sustainability interns for the 2009-10 academic year. For more information on sustainability at IU Bloomington, see