Charting the Path for a Sustainable Dickinson
Opening Remarks of President William G. Durden
Friday, April 16, 2010
Social Hall—Holland Union Building
Welcome to Dickinson College’s first sustainability summit. I thank all of you for making the effort to travel to Carlisle to participate in what I know will be an engaging and exciting conversation that is central to Dickinson’s future.
My remarks this morning will be brief as you will have ample opportunity during the next day and a half to hear directly from faculty, students and others about the College’s comprehensive environmental and sustainability initiatives—initiatives that cut across all aspects of college life, from the classroom, to residential life, to campus operations.
Although we have just recently created the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education with the help of a $1.4 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, Dickinson’s focus on these critical issues began several decades ago. We come by this focus naturally. We were, in fact, one of the first liberal arts colleges to establish an interdisciplinary program in environmental studies in the 1970s. Our Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, or ALLARM program, that involves students in useful research with community groups, dates to 1986 when it was founded by Professor Candie Wilderman. And we have steadily been incorporating sustainable practices in our campus operations so that today, for example, 100 percent of the College’s electricity consumption is offset through the use of wind power and all of our construction projects are designed to gain LEED certification.
Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. In the past year alone, Dickinson was given an A- on the 2010 Sustainable Endowments Institute Report Card, the highest overall grade given by the organization. We are also listed as a “cool school” by the Sierra Club and as one of the 20 greenest colleges in America. And we earned a place on The Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll. Dickinson, moreover, was one of only five institutions to be listed on all three. The others were the University of New Hampshire, the University of Washington, Middlebury College and Harvard. Not bad company! And most recently, yesterday in fact, we were notified of two additional awards garnered by the College. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce on Monday, April 19th that Dickinson is the Centennial Conference’s EPA College and University Green Power Champion. This award is in recognition for our efforts in green power use, leadership and distinction as a Green Power Conference Champion. And, ALLARM has been chosen for the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals (PAEP) Karl Mason Award, given to the organization, project or program that has made a significant contribution toward maintenance or restoration of Pennsylvania’s environmental quality.
Given the level of achievement and recognition we have already reached, you may wonder why we feel it is so important and necessary to convene this summit this weekend. While we have clearly emerged as a leader in this area, it is imperative that we continue to press forward to solidify our permanence and to ensure that sustainability becomes a unique and defining characteristic of a Dickinson education. Please remember that everything we do is directed to one purpose and one purpose only—preparing undergraduates for lives of professional high achievement and public service and commitment. Ambitious and successful institutions don’t take time to rest on their laurels, but always push for higher accomplishment. Other colleges and universities are already emulating our practices. Our challenge is to find ways to continue to set the standard in environmental and sustainability undergraduate education in the United States (and potentially globally now with the Bologna accord introducing some uniformity to the degree process) as these issues are destined to play a central role in the 21st century.
There is, in fact, great urgency and an historic responsibility for us to do so. Our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, understood the importance of establishing a curriculum for Dickinson College and for the emerging United States of America immediately following the American Revolution that not only prepared students through a useful, intentional and pragmatic liberal arts education to address contemporary societal needs, but also anticipated future challenges and opportunities. It was for this reason that Rush insisted that chemistry—then a relatively new discipline typically not included in traditional Euro-centered curricula—be a cornerstone of Dickinson’s academic program. Rush believed that chemistry would serve as the center of multiple points of connectivity from which new knowledge, new discoveries and new paradigms would emerge. If Dickinson graduates were to be the leaders of the new democracy and the new economy as Rush intended, they needed preparation in this key new discipline. They needed to be educated so as to be at the center of knowledge production and contribution.
Dickinson replicated this pattern of anticipating fundamental forces of change and connectivity to emerging educational trends several decades ago when we consciously chose to focus our efforts and resources on global education. Our experience with our Bologna program, which dated to the early 1960s, demonstrated how critical it was for students not only to be given the opportunity to study abroad, but also to integrate a global perspective throughout the curriculum. We anticipated that the world would become a “smaller” place in which travel and technology would blur national and cultural boundaries on many levels while, at the same time, exacerbating them in other ways. This world of heightened connectivity would demand the skills and understanding of those educated with a broad-based, interdisciplinary global perspective. Today, global education continues to be one of the central defining characteristics of a Dickinson education as we offer our students the opportunity to study in 40 programs in 24 countries on six continents and consciously provide a global context in all curricular and co-curricular activities.
And now, just one decade into the 21st century, we once again are anticipating the emergence of a major force that will both shape and challenge our future. Environmental and sustainability concerns now permeate virtually every issue, problem and opportunity at every conceivable level—local, state, national and global. Just as chemistry served as the central point of connectivity during Rush’s time, we believe that sustainability occupies that place today and will continue to do so for this generation and those to follow.
Our graduates will be called upon to make some of the most difficult decisions about the future of our planet that will require fundamental changes in individual behavior, global resource allocation and national and international policy. Breakthroughs in environmental technology will reconfigure our economy and workforce, just as they will pose threats to national security.
At Dickinson, we have a responsibility to prepare our students to meet these challenges. Environmental and sustainability education at Dickinson is not just a single class, or even just a concentration of major study. As with global education, we expect sustainability to pervade our curriculum and become an integral component of discussion in all subjects and both in and out of the classroom. We expect it to become a way of life that asks us to reflect on our individual and collective behavior as members of an environmentally conscious community. And we expect our graduates to become recognized in the 21st century as those who are prepared to envision points of connection that will lead to creative and constructive solutions to tomorrow’s environmental challenges.
This weekend’s meetings will help shape the future of this important all-campus initiative. We want to use this time to tap your expertise and interest to help us identify the key elements of the undergraduate programs we are planning for the future. We hope an informal advisory network will emerge, with those of you here today serving as the core, to help us tackle these fundamental national and global issues that intersect so many areas of knowledge and activity. Your own networks will help us to develop wider-world opportunities like internships and service learning projects that will shape the preparation of our students as global citizens ready to engage the important decisions, challenges and opportunities that will affect our planet now and in the future.
Before we fully embrace the task at hand, I would like to extend special gratitude to a few key individuals who have been especially helpful in launching this new initiative:
Helena Kolenda is here with us today from The Henry Luce Foundation. In 2004, The Luce Foundation provided a major grant to Dickinson’s Department of Environmental Studies to introduce a new curricular initiative that would allow students to engage in intensive classroom and field study of two watershed regions: the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Mississippi River basin. The final Luce semester, “From the Bay to the Bayou,” occurred last fall. As one student blogger put it, “I think this trip has taught us that the things we study seem much more simple from our classroom in Kaufman 116, but once we experience the problems first-hand, they are much more complex than we could have expected.” And so, special appreciation goes out to the Luce Foundation for their support.
Dr. Rick Shangraw, Class of 1981, has been an important consultant throughout the early stages of our environmental and sustainability initiative. Rick has also provided generous financial support that helped establish laboratory facilities for the ALLARM program. In his current capacity as Vice President for Research and Economic Affairs at Arizona State University, Rick works closely with the School of Sustainability.
Thom Wallace, Class of 1999, founder of Alumni for a Sustainable Dickinson, has been an active advocate among alumni interested in sustainability. His enthusiasm helped lead to the decision to identify “sustainability” as one of the special Annual Fund areas to which alumni may contribute.
I'd also like to thank Stuart Lamb, Class of 1964, for providing a new carbon-free vision and implementation strategy for our central energy plant through the use of a sustainable fuel source for the steam boilers—waste vegetable oil. When Stu “retired” to Florida several years ago, he developed a new renewable fuel to be used in the trucks associated with his business—Viesel fuel, made from recycled and refined waste vegetable oil. The fuel burns cleaner and more efficiently than regular diesel and thus is very sustainable indeed. It didn’t take Stu long to imagine other uses for Viesel, and his thoughts turned to his alma mater’s central energy plant and the steam boilers that ultimately provide heat to 60 percent of our campus. Stu introduced the idea of Viesel to our good folks in Facilities Management; he invited them to his Viesel plant in Florida; he engineered the equipment retrofit required for Viesel to work in our boilers; and, he generously financed the retrofit of one of our large steam boilers to run on the fuel. Thanks to Stu’s vision and his tenacity, we started heating the campus on Viesel in March and we now have the potential to reduce our carbon footprint by more than 800 metric tonnes in coming heating seasons. Stu contributes directly to advancing the reputation of ingenuity and efficiency for which Dickinson as a community is now recognized nationally. We are extremely excited not only about the possibility of this initiative to alter our practice on campus, but also to serve as a viable model of environmental and financial discipline to other colleges and universities throughout the country. Stu Lamb personifies completely the optimal result of a Dickinson education—a visionary, yet pragmatic disposition that permits a Dickinsonian to ‘connect the dots’ where others see nothing. Stu embodies that Dickinson brand of “Mid-Atlantic Pragmatism” about which I spoke in my 2009 Convocation Speech.
And last, but not least, I extend deep appreciation to Howard Lalli, Class of 1990, whose generous support helped underwrite the conference this weekend.
Again, I thank all of you for taking the time to join us for this very exciting and very important discussion about environmental sustainability at Dickinson.
Before I end my remarks this morning, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have taken steps to make the symposium a net-zero carbon event. Through a combination of planting trees at the College Farm, which will absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and by purchasing carbon offsets that help fund projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we are offsetting the carbon that was emitted in order for you to travel here. This is a small measure by itself, but it is also an indicator of the importance that we, as an institution, attach to the problem of combating climate change. You will be hearing more this morning about other steps the College is taking as a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
And without further delay, I’ll turn the podium over to Neil Leary, Director of Dickinson’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education. Neil joined Dickinson College in 2008 to direct the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education (CESE). His work for the past 20 years has focused on the environmental, social and economic consequences of climate change and more recently on strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate change through adaptation. Prior to coming to Dickinson, Neil directed international climate change research, fellowship and advanced study programs that engaged scientists and graduate students from more than 60 countries. He has been an active contributor since 1992 to the scientific assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2009, Neil was awarded a major grant from NASA for a climate change education project and in March 2010 he was named a Sustainability Education Fellow of the U.S. Partnership for Sustainability Education. Neil received a Ph.D. in natural resource economics from the University of Washington in 1988 and a BA from Macalester College in 1980.