Written By: Ali Binder
Published: May 5, 2020
My Four Years at Susquehanna
“Sustainability at SU” … Wow, what, a topic to consider! As a spring-semester senior, it is quite remarkable to look back on the last 4 years and consider how much the sustainable attributes of Susquehanna University have changed… and changed for the better! No more straws in Evert Dining Hall, no more single-use plastic water bottles with a meal swipe at the Hawk’s Nest, an on-campus thrift store, another LEED certified building (the Admission House), a TerraCycle program, an apiary next to the campus garden, an expansion and renovation to the Freshwater Research Institute (FRI) facility, a 14-acre solar field with sheep that “mow” the grass, an entire office and several student leadership positions dedicated to the topic of sustainability… I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. There has undoubtedly been substantial improvement within the realm of sustainability on our campus.
That said, while these changes exist quite clearly on the surface, it is even more remarkable to consider how sustainability has been infused within the individual lives of every student, faculty, and staff member of the Susquehanna community. Not only have I seen this change within others, I have, even more so, seen this within myself.
For as long as I can remember, I have had an undeniable fascination with nature and “the great outdoors.” I remember playing outside as a child, collecting leaves, acorns, rocks, you name it… studying them, admiring them… so, when it came time to make a decision about my plans after high school, there wasn’t a question in my mind as to what I wanted to study: Earth & Environmental Sciences. And, because such a program existed at Susquehanna, in combination with the opportunities for travel, and the university’s dedication to sustainability, I decided to enroll at SU.
Fast forward and I am taking courses within the Earth & Environmental Sciences major, so blessed to be experiencing the most engaging lab field trips imaginable (literally everything from wastewater treatment plants, to geologic formations on the side of a highway). I declared two additional minors, one in Business Administration, the other in Environmental Studies, because the central curriculum guided me in discovering my passion for the interconnectedness of business and the environment, and the importance of sustainability in aspects outside of nature alone.
I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester on the South Island of New Zealand (an experience of a lifetime that I will cherish forever). Upon coming back to campus, I learned of a position that would allow me to combine my two biggest academic interests – sustainability/environmental science and business – with my personal passion for food systems, the SU Dining Services Sustainability & Marketing Intern. In this position I evaluated Susquehanna’s sustainable food purchases in accordance to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) procedures and developed a sustainability web page for SU Dining. Additionally, I regularly coordinated and facilitated educational programs and workshops for students, faculty, and staff that raise awareness to and communicate the importance of sustainable food. This opportunity fueled my interest and excitement for sustainable systems and enhanced my appreciation for SU’s effort to adopt more sustainable practices.
Exploring the great outdoors in so many ways, from New Zealand to the streams of PA
The following summer I worked as a research assistant under the direction of Dr. Ressler in the Earth & Environmental Sciences department. It was through this experience that I participated in electroshocking fish populations, collected over 100 sediment samples, and worked with a team to analyze the samples for a number of physical and chemical properties as well as the overall impact of restoration projects on such stream sediments and their environment. This research was presented at the 11th annual Landmark Summer Research Symposium and the 2019 Susquehanna River Symposium. I continued this research into my senior year with an individualized focus on the effectiveness of best management practices in stream restoration projects and how these structures correspond to changes in fish populations over a two-year period post-restoration. These findings were presented at the 2020 Pennsylvania American Fisheries Society annual meeting as well as the Keystone Coldwater Conference, and all results were compiled into a final thesis.
Collecting sediment samples during the summer of 2019
I have had the opportunity to attended the C2C Fellows Conference at Bard College, the ADAPT sustainability leadership conference, and the 2 most recent Green Allies Conferences. These conferences provided me with unique opportunities to collaborate with other student sustainability leaders, learn from innovative environmental organizations, and participate in intensive skills-based workshops.
Green Allies Conference 2019 at Gettysburg College
It is now that I can reflect back on how much I’ve learned and grown from these experiences that I’ve been so blessed to have had. SU has shaped me in many ways, but one that I can be most particularly proud of, is the way it has fueled the fire within me to advocate for a more sustainable future. Seeing how much SU has expanded their commitment to sustainability in just the 4 years that I’ve been on campus, gives me extraordinary hope for what is to come.