By: Hannah Remmert
A 2015 graduate of Miami University, Waters received her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. However, as she progressed through her education training and student teaching, she discovered that her passion truly lay in science and sustainability education, which prompted her to return to Miami. Now, she’s a second-year graduate student in Miami’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability with a focus in sustainability and communication. In addition to her role as a student, Waters was also asked to serve in the sustainability coordinator graduate assistant position by Yvette Kline, the former director of sustainability and energy conservation at Miami University. This heavily self-directed position is reserved for graduate students in the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, and is primarily focused on sustainability outreach and education efforts on campus. This position generally reports to the director of sustainability and acts as their graduate assistant of sorts, however, following Kline’s retirement, Waters now reports to the Interim Director for the Environmental Health and Safety Office Jeffrey Johnson.
The sustainability coordinator position is multifaceted, encompassing many different sustainability pursuits of Miami University. However, the primary focus is education and awareness of the initiatives Miami undertakes. For example, Miami has made some sizeable advances in terms of sustainability efforts on campus in recent years, including the installation of a geothermal energy plant in 2014, increased efforts towards creating more LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings starting in 2011, and the creation of bike lanes beginning in 2014. All of these efforts were encouraged and promoted by graduate sustainability coordinators of both the past and the present.
One effort which demonstrates this awareness focus is the Green Team, a club on campus created to encourage and educate the student body about sustainable pursuits such as reducing energy usage or increasing awareness of recycling on campus, of which the sustainability coordinator is president. This year, Waters selected undergraduate Hannah Gonce to act as co-president.
“Working with Shawnee has been enlightening to say the least. She is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and willing to do anything she can to better our university. She has a true passion for helping the environment and is always looking into new ways to get Miami greener and more involved. She is a hard worker and a great asset to the University. I have loved working with her the past two years and will be so sad to see her go,” Gonce says in reference to working with Waters.
Other major responsibilities for this position include providing educational trainings for the faculty and staff at Miami University, working on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report (a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance), recordkeeping regarding Miami’s trash and recycling rates, and generally working with various members of the university to both identify sustainable solutions for campus and to put these solutions in action.
Waters took over this position in June 2015, and has since created some significant changes. Currently, she’s working to develop a green cleaning program for Miami, where she’s pairing with Physical Facilities to use the greenest products possible for campus buildings (excluding residence halls). She’s also conducting a training for the Housing, Dining, Recreation & Business Services staff about the various recycling and composting opportunities available around campus, some insight to what’s going on and how they can help.
“The really cool thing about that is that they approached me about doing this training. They’re really interested in trying to better themselves and better the University,” Shawnee recalls.
One new initiative Waters has started is a better campus composting program, which involves collecting the coffee grounds produced at Armstrong and academic buildings, and taking them to the Institute for Food’s farm, a practice which diverts anywhere from 100-200 pounds of coffee grounds from the landfill each week.
Yet of all the work Waters has done, she believes her most impactful work has been in terms of Miami’s battery and toner recycling. When she took over the position, Waters discovered that toners used in university copy machines had been collected, but instead of being recycled, they’d been stored in a warehouse on campus. Waters has found a way to recycle these, leading to 2.3 tons of batteries recycled last academic school year.
In addition to her current projects, Waters hopes for Miami to join the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Challenge. The challenge would help Miami create more sustainable choices regarding food and food waste, whether that means figuring out a better way to compost, or being able to share uneaten food so that it doesn’t become waste.
“We want to do the Food Recovery Challenge to get another aspect of waste diversion and to be more sustainable with our options. Sending something to the landfill, composting it, or recycling it is a last option. We want to be more proactive instead of reactive in that regard.”
Over the years, this position and those who have held it have clearly impacted Miami’s sustainability efforts. However, this position has also had a tremendous impact for Waters.
“This position has greatly enhanced my academic experience. I’ve been given a very eye-opening, real-world experience that I could have never received in a classroom,” Waters stated.
Through this position, she’s been able to put into action many of the skills she’s learned throughout school, ranging from project management to the economic side of things, like cost-benefit analyses, and communicating the importance of sustainability to people who don’t always understand the issues or feel the same way about them. It has also given her a better idea of what she still needs to learn, and how she can improve.
In terms of Water’s future after grad school, she’s begun job searching for sustainability coordinator positions, similar to what she’s doing now in the sustainability coordinator role, as well as sustainability education positions.
“I really like what I do now with Miami. It’s neat – you get to meet a lot of people, you get to be involved with a lot of different, impactful projects, and it’s truly awesome.”