​Students and Staff Exhibit at Annual Sustainability Conference

Seeking an opportunity to share her experience and knowledge of sustainability with undergraduate students from across the nation, Michelle Wentling, president of the Ohio State Student Sustainability Council, attended the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference.

The theme of the conference, “Stronger in Solidarity,” resonated strongly with Wentling and led her to several important realizations.

“We cannot simply use the same messaging and programming that fosters the same audience again and again,” says Wentling, a senior studying English. “We need to have uncomfortable conversations with those with whom we disagree. We need to encourage collaboration with others and not simply other environmentally-focused groups, but groups and bodies that are affected by environmental issues, which is each and every one of us.”

Wentling explains that the Student Sustainability Council was created when a few students involved in different sustainability organizations on campus realized that they had little collaboration or communication, although each group had a similar mission. These students decided to create a council of organization leaders to promote collaboration and minimize project overlap. The Student Sustainability Council currently consists of 21 student organizations focused on sustainability and the environment.

At the AASHE conference, Wentling, along with Student Sustainability Council Treasurer Marie McConnell, gave a presentation about the Student Sustainability Council with the goal of educating students from other universities on how to form their own collaborative group. They shared information about how the council was formed, how it's maintained, how funding is awarded and how new groups can join the council.

Wentling and McConnell (left and right, respectively, in photo, above) also discussed the 2017 Time for Change Week, which was a week of programming and events focused on increasing Ohio State environmental awareness and community engagement. Wentling considers Time for Change week to be the Student Sustainability Council’s greatest success thus far.

“We could not stress enough how vital collaboration among council members was in creating the largest green week in the history of Ohio State,” Wentling says.

After graduation, Wentling plans to further her education with a focus on environmental humanities. At the conference, she learned about humanitarian sustainability efforts such as the intersectionality of environmental justice, environmental poetry and writing, implementation of fine arts in sustainability, and ways oral history can encourage sustainable practices. Wentling also learned about projects implemented at other universities that could be included in Time for Change Week.

AASHE is a membership association of colleges and universities, businesses and nonprofits who are leading partners in sustainability transformation. The annual AASHE Conference seeks to advance sustainability in higher education and surrounding communities by providing a platform to share effective models, policies, research, collaborations and transformative actions.

Wentling was one of 12 student leaders whose attendance at the conference was coordinated by the Office of Student Life; three of the students received travel funding from the Office of Energy and Environment.

Tom Reeves, director of Energy Management and Sustainability for Student Life, explains that each year, a group of students with diverse backgrounds and majors, who represent different student organizations on campus, attend the conference. Ohio State had one of the largest groups of students in attendance this year.

“This, to me, is my favorite part of going to AASHE — seeing our student leaders grow and develop in their understanding of sustainability in a broad sense and learning that ‘sustainability’ means a lot more than just recycling and reducing your carbon footprint,” says Reeves. “Rather, it has a much broader scope that engages social justice and economic impact alongside the environmental components.”

Reeves also participated in the conference with presentations on the Student Sustainability Council and Time for Change Week, as well as the Office of Student Life’s engagement with the Ohio State Department of Athletics to help communicate sustainability practices with students and the greater Columbus community.

“I think AASHE is important because it shows all attendees — staff and students alike — how much working together can help resolve the issues surrounding climate change,” says Reeves. “This year’s theme, ‘Stronger in Solidarity,’ really emphasized the importance of collaborating and building bridges to help increase awareness of sustainability.”

The 2018 Time for Change Week will take place April 1-6. Follow Time for Change Week on social media for event and activity updates.

Tristen Spahr is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.