Planet Blue Ambassadors program at University of Michigan will encourage sustainability in residence halls
Students who sign up for Planet Blue Ambassadors will participate in a two-credit course featuring class lectures as well as practical application of sustainable initiatives in their residence halls.
The course is a collaboration among the Graham Institute, University Housing, the Office of Campus Sustainability, the Staff Environmental Stewardship Team, and the Student Sustainability Initiative.
Lydia McMullen Laird, a senior at Michigan, has served on the board of the Student Sustainability Initiative and is the student coordinator for the new program. Student ambassadors might conduct a waste or environmental audit in their residence halls, lead a workshop on environmental issues, and model good leadership skills for other students, according to the program's website.
“It is a class, but it’s more than that,” she said. “It’s a bit like a job in a volunteer kind of sense.”
Laird’s description highlights the hybrid nature of the course. According to Peter Logan, communications director for University Housing, the program is based on the idea of “eco-reps” popular at many schools around the country.
“Other schools have used volunteer or stipend-based programs. We wanted to take a curriculum-based approach,” he said. “It’s the best of two worlds, and the info and training they’re getting is grounded in good solid academic teaching, but there will be certain expectations of their work in the res halls. It isn’t simply a matter of doing the reading and coming to class.”
Logan and Laird said reaching out to freshmen made sense because they make up the majority of students living in residence halls.
“If we can encourage sustainable living behavior within our residential students, it’s the kind of practice and attitude that they take with them beyond their residential living and out into the community,” Logan said.
There is also a staff component to the program. According to a press release, the Voices of Staff Environmental Stewardship Team will be meeting with the class every two weeks to help the program integrate its efforts with the wider campus.
“The ultimate program goal is to create a culture of sustainability across all University of Michigan units,” according to the release.
The 25 students who will be selected to participate in the program will be responsible for starting a sustainability initiative in their residence halls that will count for a portion of their grade.
University Housing has been actively recruiting students to apply for the program at freshman orientation sessions, as well as through emails to students who will be living in university housing in the fall. Additionally, students receive information about the program with their housing assignment.
“We already have quite a few applications,” Laird said. “Our application process is open until August 14 on a rolling basis. We hope to have all 25 spots filled by then.”
The program is not open to students living off campus this year, but it could open up in the future.
“This is a pilot that right now we want to stay focused on residential students,” Logan said. “There may be way for the ambassadors to extend their knowledge to people not living in their communities, but first and foremost this is a community program, a residence program.”