Written By: Shian Knouse

Published:  June 2, 2020

From undecided to certain: My Adventure  at SUsquehanna

I have always had an interest in the natural world around me and I grew up fostering a feeling of connection with the outdoors. I have enjoyed hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, gardening, and foraging for as long as I can remember.

Enjoying the outdoors with my hiking partner, Daisy 

As I got older, I realized many of the impacts we as humans have on our planet. Before I came to Susquehanna, I worked to do my part, but I had no idea where my future would lead me. As a first year, I started out with an undeclared major. After talking with faculty, the Career Development Center, and some students in the Earth and Environmental Sciences (EENV) major, I decided this was the area of study for me the beginning of my second year. During the spring of that year, Derek Martin was hired as Susquehanna’s first ever Sustainability Coordinator. When I heard about this, I started attending meetings with a very small group of students interested in working with Derek to implement different sustainable initiatives on campus. Three years later, it is amazing to look back at all of the progress that has been made from improving the Center for Environmental Education and Research (CEER) and Freshwater Research Institute (FRI) to eliminating plastic water bottles at on-campus dining facilities, installing a 14-acre solar array which is “mowed” by sheep, and even establishing an Office of Sustainability!

I did what I could to get involved with these exciting happenings through participating in different groups and events. In the following semesters, I had the opportunity to serve in leadership roles which really allowed me to immerse myself into the Office of Sustainability. My second and third years flew by and I stayed involved with through many various events such as the Sustainable Foods Fair and Earth Month, and served as president of Susquehanna’s Beekeeping Club. I also helped to create a digital sustainability map of SU where anyone can go to find different recycling receptacles and bike racks among other sustainability attributes on campus and attended multiple environmental conferences, strikes, and marches. During my third year at SU I had the amazing opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad in Hamilton, New Zealand and learn about the environment there on top of exploring natural areas in a different part of the world. Way too quickly, I found myself in my final year of undergrad.

The ladies I became very familiar with throughout my four years at Susquehanna

Attending a protest against fossil fuel subsidies in Harrisburg and a climate action protest at Bucknell University

One of the most challenging but also most rewarding experiences of a senior EENV major is the completion of a capstone senior research project. I had interests in different areas of the department and had too many possibilities for research that it was difficult to fine-tune what I wanted to pursue during my last year. In August of 2019 I received an email from Dr. Kathy Straub, the EENV Department Chair, about an opportunity to complete work as part of a climate action assistance program with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) to create a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and climate action plan for a township in Pennsylvania. Previously, I had heard of GHG inventories and generally knew what they entailed and that they provided benchmarks to influence emissions reductions. What environmentalist wouldn’t want to play a part in reducing emissions at a larger scale than their day-to-day personal actions? So, I applied to work on this project right away and heard back a few weeks later that I was accepted and was assigned to work with a small jurisdiction with a population of 644 people in Lycoming County – Armstrong Township.

 

The fall semester’s responsibilities included a series of webinars which detailed the steps of the greenhouse gas inventory: scoping procedures, contacting the local government member I would be working with, sending out data requests to utilities that provided and kept track of different commodities to the region, and learning how to use an online GHG inventory calculator among other various tasks. Throughout this process I learned a lot about what gets included in GHG inventories, which sectors are responsible for emissions in small rural areas like the township I worked with, and I got a firsthand look at how local government plans and implements change. The results of the inventory show the following distribution of emissions among the six sectors examined: the transportation sector with 82.50% followed by the residential energy sector with 10.89%, the commercial energy sector with 3.65%, the solid waste sector with 1.65%, the industrial energy sector with 0.91%, and the water and wastewater sector with 0.38%. In total, Armstrong Township contributed 15,327 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in the calendar year 2017. It was a little surprising to me that the transportation sector was responsible for the most emissions. However, after further examination it was determined that this outcome was partially due to the large volume of miles travelled on a portion of Route 15 that runs through the small township.

 

In the spring semester, I worked to create a climate action plan (CAP) to recognize and reduce emissions in the jurisdiction. During this process I had to formulate emissions reduction strategies that would both reduce a sizeable portion of emissions and be feasible in Armstrong Township. If you refer to the results of the inventory above, this means reductions in the transportation and residential energy sectors would cause the highest emissions reductions. With this in mind, it was decided that the most fitting reduction actions for Armstrong Township included reducing vehicle miles travelled in the jurisdiction and increasing renewable energy generation through solar photovoltaic panels in both the residential and commercial sectors. These conclusions were listed in a CAP I created for Armstrong Township. Hopefully this project will influence other areas to complete GHG inventories and CAPs to reduce emissions and find ways to save money in their jurisdiction boundaries.

 

Overall, completing this research was a valuable experience that helped to inspire emissions reductions in a small rural area which is something you don’t see every day. It felt good to have my boots “on the ground” working to influence climate action all the while gaining skills that I can put to use in the future. I can imagine that GHG inventories and CAPs will become even more prominent and important in the coming years as we try to reduce emissions and mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.

The poster of my senior capstone project

My experiences at Susquehanna definitely shaped me into the person I am today and instilled certain values in me that I may not have gained without spending four years on the orange and maroon filled campus. I came as an incoming student with no clue about what I wanted to pursue but after finding and nurturing my passion for all things outdoors, I now know. If I had to go back and relive the last four years, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Learning about glaciers and the importance of snow melt while exploring Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in Canterbury New Zealand

Have questions, ideas for content, or site contributions? Email sustainability@susqu.edu