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Colleges embrace environmentalism with greener operations, curriculum
0831GREEN
Kevin Peyton, kneeling in center, an environmental technology instructor at North Georgia Technical College in Clarkesville, takes his students for study out in the field. The students are, from left, Rhoadie Dutton, Stephanie Dickerson, Peyton, Stacy Palmer and Barrett Bourne. The school offers an associate’s degree in environmental technology, after which many graduates go on to careers in wildlife and fisheries management or other fields in environmental sciences. - photo by JEFF GULLE

Between research papers, study guides and other materials, college students can waste a lot of paper printing documents.

But universities and technical schools are becoming more eco-friendly not only by finding new ways to protect the environment, but also by creating new degree programs in the growing environmental field.

"We have a student body that is very much aware of the environment," said Kate Maine, director of university relations at North Georgia College & State University. "They have expanded their efforts to recycle cans and bottles and newspapers. We make sure that we have recycling bins in as many places as possible."

Brenau University is also paying attention to the importance of recycling.

"With faculty and staff, as well as students, we have partnered with the Coca-Cola Co., and they have provided us numerous recycling bins that we have placed around campus," said Dr. Wayne Dempsey, executive vice president of Brenau University.

North Georgia College professors also are making environmentally friendly changes such as not printing documents for students. Instead, students can either print documents on their own, or view them via the Internet.

"Today’s students are much more receptive to information being posted online," Maine said.

To save on printing, Brenau uses the Blackboard System, an online computerized communication system where professors post information for students.

"As you can well imagine, we generate a lot of paper waste here, and so it’s important that everyone understands how sensitive we should be about recycling," Dempsey said.

On top of recycling, college campuses are also starting to develop different environmental programs for students.

North Georgia Technical College has had an environmental technology program on its Clarkesville campus for the last five years. The degree focuses on natural resource management, which leads many students into careers in wildlife and fisheries management.

"We have designed our curriculum to also provide a very good basis in environmental science education," said Kevin Peyton, a natural resources instructor at North Georgia Tech. "This has allowed some of our graduates to pursue environmental careers outside of wildlife and fisheries."

North Georgia Tech instructor Duncan Hughes is the watershed coordinator for the Soque River Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit, membership organization made up of individuals and institutions who are interested in preserving and protecting the watershed.

Because of this connection, students at the technical school can take part in activities ranging from chemical and biological sampling of local streams to laboratory work and data analysis.

Hughes said it is critical that higher education includes a focus on environmental quality and resource protection.

"There is the same amount of water on Earth now as there has always been, there are just more folks that need it, and more folks polluting it," said Hughes. "The best education in the world in any other field won’t take you too far if you can’t breath the air or drink the water."

Brenau has a Sustainability Committee and a Sustainability Task Force on campus in charge of looking for opportunities to help the environment. This year, a Student Sustainability Committee will be added. First-year students at Brenau learn about sustainability at their orientation.

"From the time that students enter Brenau, we are helping them raise their level of awareness and encouraging them to be creative and innovative in how they can contribute," said Dr. Maria Zayas, assistant professor of psychology at Brenau.

With the help of committees, volunteers and student groups, such as "Eco Friends," Brenau has been coming up with many ways to "go green."

Brenau will host a fundraiser called the "Green-A-Thon," which will give students the opportunity to pledge their intentions for how they plan to help the environment.

Brenau also has students in art classes making objects out of recycled materials; an English class is looking at literature dealing with sustainability; a graphic design class is designing a Brenau logo for sustainability; and a course in environmental law is taught. The interior design department at Brenau is working toward teaching students how to build sustainable housing.

Conserving energy is also an important element for colleges and universities.

Colleges are turning off lights and computers more often and some are even changing their work schedules to a four-day work week to save on energy. For schools such as North Georgia Tech, coming up with a plan to reduce energy consumption has resulted in a savings of more than $200,000 for the year.

North Georgia Tech is hoping to create new programs that will help students find job opportunities in environmental fields. Specifically, they have been seeking opportunities for programs related to bio-fuels and advances in HVAC.

"In addition to teaching technical skills, our responsibility as a college is to make certain that students understand how what they do in their programs and chosen careers impacts the environment both locally and globally," said Vicki Nichols, North Georgia Tech’s vice president for Academic Affairs.

Hughes is keeping in mind the possibilities for the future.

"I hope that the children of our current students can come to North Georgia Tech in 20 years to study about careers in resource protection and environmental issues that we have not even thought about yet," Hughes said.

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