A student-led competition held as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues is helping expand sustainability planning at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Offered as part of the forum’s 2020-21 focus on environmental issues, the E.N. Thompson Forum Sustainability Idea Award challenged Recognized Student Organizations to plan, develop or execute a “green” project that aligns with the university’s new sustainability and resilience master plan. The contest featured four themes: transportation, energy, waste management, and sustainability and COVID-19.
“It was incredible to see a broad spectrum of student groups — more than 12 — participating and outlining a variety of interesting topics,” said Prabhakar Shrestha, sustainability coordinator for the university and a judge for the competition. “The students did an excellent job developing innovative ideas. It was also inspiring to have these ideas come from student groups not focused on sustainability topics.”
A committee of University Honors Program students led the competition, from creating its rules and promotion to creating a points-based rubric for assessment to selecting judges.
“It was very difficult picking winners in each category,” said Aime Nishimwe, a senior honors student who served on the committee, promoted the contest and developed its rubric. “Each RSO did a great job thinking their project through and how it would benefit the environment and improve the university. And that showed in the final scoring, as many of the proposals finished just a point or two from the others.”
Honors student Dulce Garcia, an E.N. Thompson Forum student intern who led the student committee and served as a liaison with faculty and staff who develop the lecture series, said the competition was inspiring.
“It’s amazing that the university would offer this type of competition, allowing students the chance to collaborate and implement change across our campuses,” Garcia said. “These proposals show the passion students have for sustainability and the environment.
“It was very eye-opening to see the amount of work students are willing to put forth when they have the opportunity to make real change.”
Patrice McMahon, director of the University Honors Program and professor of political science, said the success of the competition was due to Garcia, Nishimwe and other students who helped lead its creation and implementation.
“Although COVID-19 made it a greater challenge, our incredible Forum on World Issues student committee came up with the idea for the competition, promoted it on campus and identified judges to ensure that it was a successful event,” McMahon said. “We are fortunate to have Dulce and these other incredible student leaders as a part of our program.”
The winning project proposals, listed below, were announced during the March 31 E.N. Thompson Forum with Ann Bancroft. Each winning RSO received a $500 award and the opportunity to work with the university’s sustainability office to review and possibly implement their idea. Funding for the competition was provided by the Arbor Foundation and the University Honors Program.
2020 E.N. Thompson Forum Sustainability Idea Awards
Sustainability and COVID-19
RSO: Engineers Without Borders
Proposal: Reduce waste in University Housing’s to-go meal option by replacing plastic utensils with a metal option. The project would assign metal utensils to every student living in residence halls. Students would be responsible for keeping track of them and pay a fee if a replacement is needed.
Adviser: Libby Jones, professor, civil and environmental engineering
RSO: Student Organic Farm
Proposal: Create a comprehensive zero-waste master plan that allows the university to achieve zero-waste status by 2030. The plan was adapted from multiple other universities and includes information specific to Nebraska.
Adviser: Sam Wortman, associate professor, agronomy and horticulture
Proposal: Place a bike repair stand and outdoor air pump for bikes outside the Nebraska East Union. The placement would give students a spot to repair bikes while also allowing for WiFi access to watch repair videos if needed.
Adviser: Jordan Messerer, assistant director, Outdoor Adventures
Proposal: Install solar panels at the Outdoor Adventure Center to increase renewable energy awareness on campus and to provide data to university officials. Ultimately, this data could be used to gauge the feasibility of installing small solar systems on campus.
Adviser: John Hay, Extension educator, biological systems engineering
Judges for the Sustainability Idea Award competition were Ryan Fette, education and outreach coordinator with the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance; Christine Haney, lecturer in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources; and Shrestha.
McMahon said forum leaders hope to continue offering similar competitions to students and RSOs in the future.
“Next year’s Forum on World Issues theme is, ‘Moments of Reckoning: Global Class for Racial Equity and Action,’” McMahon said. “I am sure that it will inspire our students to again develop great ideas for how our campus and community can promote and further racial equity.”
The E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues is a cooperative project of the Cooper Foundation, Lied Center for Performing Arts and the university. It was established to bring a diversity of viewpoints on international and public policy issues to the university and people of Nebraska to promote understanding and encourage discussion. Learn more about the series here.