How can you Sustain Your Passion?

Maybe I’m starting to get sentimental, but this year—my last as an Illinois State student—Founder’s Day (Thursday, February 21) seemed to be an event I should pay attention to. I also teach a course on campus, and I started the ISU holiday by asking my students if they knew what the particular day was. After getting responses like “Thursday?” and “The day before Friday” I felt like it was my duty to enlighten them on this fine institution they decided to become a part of.

While I touched on the history a bit, I also spent a few minutes talking to them about the important role their university plays at helping them get involved (politically, socially, and professionally). Unfortunately, I don’t get much time to talk about it in a regular classroom session, but since I’ve got this website to rant about it…I want to take a few minutes to talk about student involvement on campus. Illinois State has been working on their Educating Illinois initiative, a report that outlines the university’s goals, mission, and values. One of their values includes civic engagement—promoting active learning experiences through which students will gain an awareness and understanding of civic engagement.

I could spend more time bogging you down on textbook definitions of the term, but what I really want students, citizens, people, groups, and even animals to do is GET INVOLVED in something they care about. ISU offers nearly 300 registered student organizations, and that doesn’t even begin to include the many opportunities available by the surrounding Bloomington-Normal community. I would love if students stopped by our office and wanted to chat about how they can help the Office of Sustainability, but I know that our mission may not always align with others. However, imagine what our campus would be like, and what could be accomplished, if every student decided to join one organization, help one cause, or sign one petition. I’ve taken courses where we have talked about how an organized group of ISU students could inspire change (regardless of what that change may be), but I’m really looking forward to the day that it does happen.

I have read this same article I’m writing a billion times, and I know I’m reiterating the points that are made by my other teachers, friends, parents, and mentors, but if we keep talking about civic engagement, service learning, and volunteer work, maybe, just maybe, it will stick in the head of one person—and that’s good enough for me. I know that most people who read this will just click back on to Facebook, but for a few I hope this resonates with you, and if it does, tell me about it! Let me know what you’re doing on ISU’s campus, in our community, state, or another country by sharing your story with me.

I’m only a few months away from becoming an ISU alum for good, however I look forward to what future generations can accomplish. Hopefully the special day our university takes to recognize alumni won’t be just another “Thursday”, but a day to recognize the many ISU students that have become founders of change helping to make our world a better place.

So how can you get involved? Here’s a start…

Bring It Back to Normal (A day of service projects for ISU students in the community)

ISU’s American Democracy Project 

Getting Involved on campus/in the community 

Bloomington-Normal organizations looking for volunteers 

National organizations/careers focused on social responsibility

–Jordan Goebig

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Jesse Fell Is In the Air

Founder’s Day is right around the corner. And like any proud Redbird, I sat down last Friday while the snow-flakes fell outside and snuggled in by the fire with a hot kettle of cocoa for a viewing of the Illinois State University Historical Video Series. The 248 minute documentary relates the history of the University from the years 1857 to 2007. Sadly, I only made it to year 1956 before deciding to watch something else…However, those first 99 years of risqué University history got me thinking, mostly, about one of the University’s founders, Jesse Fell.

Every Redbird knows Jesse Fell loved trees. Just look at the Fell Arboretum! But did you know he planted 13,000 in one year in Normal!? THAT’S SO MANY TREES! And in only ONE YEAR! Trees and other plants perform a critical service to human beings by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through the natural process of photosynthesis. Without this service, we would literally die. In addition to carbon, trees remove other pollutants from the air that originate from driving gasoline or diesel vehicles, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates. According to a Sustainability Plan recently approved by the Town of Normal, Normal suffers from an air quality rating below the national average. It is suspected the primary cause of the sub par air we’re breathing is the dramatic increase in gasoline and diesel vehicles in the Twin Cities over the past few decades. Were it not for the efforts of arbor enthusiast Jesse Fell, one wonders how much dirtier the air might be.

Chart 1

But let’s take a step back and see the forest for the trees. A few pieces of data will allow us to compute roughly how many trees a person would have to plant to offset the carbon emissions that originate from campus electricity consumption in one year. A single tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.[1] Just for fun, let’s imagine “pounds” are actually “Drew Carey’s.” According to MidAmerican Energy, the company that supplies electricity to the University, 1,089.4 Drew Carey’s worth of carbon dioxide were emitted per every 1000 kilowatt-hours of electricity produced for the 12 months ending September 30, 2012. During those same twelve months, the University consumed 92,264,499 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Running the numbers yields 100,513,054 Drew Carey’s worth of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of University electric consumption during that timeframe. Assuming each tree absorbs 48 Drew Carey’s worth of carbon dioxide per year, you would have to plant 2,094,022 trees to offset the carbon emitted! And that’s just ONE YEAR for a University of roughly 20,000 students!

In Fell’s day, people in the Bloomington-Normal area weren’t concerned with carbon pollution, Drew Carey, or greenhouse gases. Wood, a renewable resource, was their primary source of energy. They used it for heating their humble homes and cooking their humble food (which you can bet they or someone they knew raised). Having recently graduated with a degree in renewable energy from the University Fell co-founded, I sometimes wonder what Fell would say about this degree, considering he lived his entire life consuming only renewable energy. In Fell’s time, environmentalism wasn’t a trend. It was a fact of life. Fell died in 1887, five years after the first American hydroelectric plant became operational. The new era of electricity was experiencing its’ first growing pains. ISU became electrified around the turn of the 20th century (the exact year is given in the documentary, but I can’t remember it, so go WATCH IT!).

Chart 2

Illinois State University is a terrific institution. I don’t know what brought you here, but for me it was perhaps Fell’s most enduring legacy, the quad. What better way is there to honor Fell than rededicating ourselves to a task that was such an enormous part of his life, planting trees? Today, institutions of higher education are imperiled by the threat of global warming, which is why President Bowman signed onto the American College and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2008. When we realize, as Fell did, the impact of our actions on future generations, we can begin the work of protecting and preserving the environment. After all, it was this Johnny Appleseed of his time who sowed the seeds that make our campus the award winning example of urban forestry it is today. But if you want to plant trees, you should probably wait until spring.

Our environmental roots

Matthew–I grew up on a farm West of Springfield, Illinois that raised, among other things, ostriches. My hobbies are regularly communing with the outdoors, and when not working tirelessly for the advancement of sustainability at Illinois State, a great game of croquet! I began thinking seriously about environmental issues during a semester abroad in Uppsala, Sweden. Swedish culture places a high value on environmental protection and conservation. They have many solar thermal installations, as well as an innovative waste to energy program, whereby they are paid to take trash from other European countries, and burn it for energy. Recycling rates are so high in Sweden, that they don’t even produce enough garbage for the program. I graduated from Illinois State University in December, 2012 with a degree in Renewable Energy. Among the ‘green’ initiatives I am pursuing on campus are a green roof, a bike-share program, and the completion of a Climate Action Plan. After some traveling, I intend to continue my professional education.

Jordan–My route to environmentalism wasn’t a traditional path, by any means. I didn’t grow up in a household that touted composting and enforced recycling rules, nobody ever explained to me what greenhouses gases were, let alone climate change. When I stepped foot on ISU’s campus I wistfully thought that I was going to be a teacher (preferably middle school—I know, I’m crazy), however by the end of my first semester I had switched into ISU’s journalism program, to change the world in a different way. Still unsure of the required minor I wanted to pursue, I enrolled in an Environmental Health class, honestly, because it sounded interesting. For the first time I felt like I was taking a course that stirred the passion that my first year of college had sucked out of me (sorry gen eds—you just weren’t that fun), and I spent the rest of my undergraduate experience trying to take environmental science classes while balancing my love for journalistic writing. In 2010, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Office of Sustainability, thanks to an ISU mentor, and have been working on communication projects for them ever since. At first working on these projects, in a scientifically focused field, made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough to make our campus (and planet) a healthier, better place, however, the work we’ve done has made me realize the importance communication truly has at doing just that.

Ali–My interest in environmentalism dates back to the early years of my life.  I was lucky to learn about the importance of recycling, carpooling and conserving electricity from my very resourceful mom. In addition to practicing sustainable efforts, I am interested in studying environmentalism, more specifically in relation to human rights issues.  As an undergrad at ISU, I minored in Peace & Conflict Resolution Studies, which is an interdisciplinary minor that focuses on social justice, conflict resolution and violence prevention, environmental justice, and globalization.  I especially enjoyed my courses on environmental issues.  I did a semester project on the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil and how it affected both the environment and the indigenous people’s well being.  Studying environmental issues made me realize how big of an impact we have on the well-being of our earth. It is through sustainable efforts that we leave the earth better for the future.