There are a lot of differences between Georgia’s colleges and universities. Some are privately funded, some with tax dollars. Some have historic campuses, like the University of Georgia, which incorporated in 1785. Others were founded in the 20th century, like Georgia State.
Brenau University, which many associate chiefly with Gainesville, has its roots back in 1878 but there are Brenau campuses in four other cities across Georgia. Most recently, Brenau’s “North Atlanta” campus in Norcross was host to an all-day workshop of the Georgia Campus Sustainability Network. The GCSN brings together administrators, staff, professors and students from all over the state to exchange views and plan projects with a common goal: Preserving and improving the health of this planet and its people.
“A lot of these colleges are thinking similar things,” said Eriqah Foreman-Williams, Southeast Campus Field Coordinator of the National Wildlife Federation, who organized the meeting under the Federation’s Campus Ecology program. “The first goal we need to always determine is: What do we want to accomplish?”
Education once consisted of a professor talking to an auditorium full of students. Today’s colleges in Georgia have students engaged in activities with a clear benefit to the communities. This ranges from edible gardens to building public greenspaces, organizing health fairs, and promotion of wellness through better nutrition.
The week that includes Earth Day 2014 (April 22) will see activities sponsored by colleges all over the state with goals developed at the GCSN workshop on the Brenau Campus. Most recently, the trend is toward nutrition. It’s been known for centuries that eating healthy food allows for a longer life span, but in the past it was sometimes equated with “rabbit food.” The farmers’ markets that have sprung up at some Georgia universities show otherwise. Locally grown produce is not only healthy, it also tends to be tastier than food laced with preservatives and shipped from far away.
Better health was also the theme of the January convention held by the Celebrate Healthy North Georgia group (www.celebratehealthynorthgeorgia.org), which united health care professionals of 13 counties with colleges, schools and government at the Lanier Tech Conference Center. These events mark the new trend in sustainability: A focus on people, quality of life, and education for lifestyles marked by less illness and more years of activity.
The collaboration seen at the GCSN workshop shows that Georgia’s colleges and universities are well on their way to accomplish these goals.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.