Last summer, in the midst of a global pandemic, two sustainability leaders went looking for connection to their peers across the state, and ultimately developed and launched the Minnesota Student Sustainability Network.
St. Thomas sustainability leader Ariana Porcello (right) and St. Kate’s sustainability leader Rachel Schauer (left) created and developed the Minnesota Student Sustainability Network.
Ariana is a sophomore at St. Thomas and Rachel is a senior at St. Kate’s. They met because of their shared passion for sustainability and realized that working with sustainability leaders from different perspectives and universities made their jobs easier. Because of this, they wanted to expand sustainability collaboration among students in Minnesota and in the summer of 2020 they made that idea a reality.
The network now has 14 participating schools in the network, each with one to four representatives. Current UMD reps (Mary Parsatoon and Stine Myrah) are grateful for the sense of community it has provided, especially during the pandemic. After a very successful initial year, we wanted to share about how this network was created and the accomplishments the network has achieved so far.
Read the following Q&A with Ariana Porcello and Rachel Schauer to learn more about the development of the Minnesota Student Sustainability Network.
What made you decide to form the MN Student Sustainability Network?
Both Ariana and Rachel wanted to create a greater sense of community between Minnesota universities. Ariana and Rachel were aware of an organization similar to this but with faculty and staff instead of students. Rachel attended these staff meetings on behalf of St. Kate’s and became inspired to start a student version. This also inspired Ariana along with the idea of being more able to help her school be more sustainable by learning from students from various universities. The two leaders decided to do something about this dream of having a Minnesota student network and gathered a contact list of sustainability leaders from a St.Thomas sustainability staff member of multiple Minnesota universities. They reached out asking these leaders if they could recommend one to three students who would be wanting and willing to participate. The network was officially founded Summer 2020.
What does the MN Student Sustainability Network do?
We connect people from across the state and provide a space to openly discuss sustainability issues. We discuss anything from what you are working on as having a sustainability position, sustainability related major, or working on outside advocacy. We also share and connect with one another in order to help each other with projects and provide advice and ideas. Reason for doing this is because sustainability is a newer field and area of study and because of that it can be kind of lonely and hard to make connections. Sustainability is so collaborative in nature and is definitely a topic area where you can hear something from another school and can adapt to your own school.
What are some accomplishments made from the Sustainability Network?
Bringing students from all backgrounds together to discuss sustainability. It is cool that each leader comes from a different perspective of sustainability such as a focus on food, energy, GIS, and more. A huge accomplishment is that the group has “regulars'' which are students who have attended almost every meeting since the very beginning. This is the first year and kind of a trial for the network, so the leaders are amazed that people show interest and make this network a commitment especially over Zoom. Both leaders feel surprised by how connected the group is because they have gotten to know the members very well and look forward to hearing members’ sustainability project updates during meetings. A specific activity for the group is hosting a state-wide EcoChallenge which is a competition where participants have the opportunity to complete daily or one-time sustainability related actions from various categories.
What have you personally gained from this experience (Ariana)?
The network is like a Sustainability support group. Sometimes I feel stressed out about sustainability related issues as many sustainability leaders do. Knowing that people are doing the same thing as me even though they are from different schools and have the same experience is comforting and rewarding. Finding people who have different perspectives has also been fulfilling and has opened me up to sustainability ideas and discussion. I have also gained a great resource for projects which has been really helpful.
What have you personally gained from this experience (Rachel)?
A lot of different things. Learning how to communicate and organize these meetings has been important to the network’s success. I personally love hearing what people talk about during these meetings. Through this, the group has helped me with various projects such as creating effective compost signs and coming up with ideas about promoting proper sorting for compostable cups. Overall, hearing ideas from others and taking those ideas back to your own personal community is what I have gained most from this network.
If COVID-19 didn’t happen would this network have happened?
Both leaders question and doubt the development of the network if COVID-19 never happened. COVID-19 opened the world to a more virtual lifestyle. Zoom allowed them to begin a state-wide network like the Minnesota Student Sustainability Network because there was no travel necessary. It also made meetings more environmentally friendly due to the lack of traveling. They both agree that a network like this may have been created but it would have been more regional instead of the state-wide group they have created today.
What does the future of the MN Student Sustainability Network look like?
Expanding! Both leaders want to reach out to more universities in Minnesota so they can connect and learn from their sustainability peers. They especially want to work on including more community colleges and tribal colleges because many of them are making amazing advances in sustainability. With expanding, the leaders hope to have a future sustainability project collaboration among all participating schools similar to hosting EcoChallenge. An ambiguous goal for the future would be doing a more regional Midwest Student Sustainability Network or at least having one meeting per year with other states. The leaders know that their passion and fellow students’ passion for sustainability does not stop when the school year ends and are considering having future meetings over the summer. The main goal of the network is to continue having monthly meetings with a consistent turnout to keep the network going.
We are also excited to announce that UMD Office of Sustainability Student Assistant Mary Parsatoon will be one of the new co-leaders of this network for the 2021-2022 school year! To get involved with the network, please get in touch with Mary at [email protected].
List of current participating schools:
College of St. Benedict & St. Johns
College of St. Scholastica
Concordia College Moorhead
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College
Gustavus Adolphus College
St. Catherine University
University of Minnesota Crookston
University of Minnesota Duluth
University of Minnesota Morris
University of St. Thomas