Published Wednesday May 16, 2018
The scenery at Tennessee Tech University’s Appalachian Center for Craft located near Center Hill Lake is picturesque, but Craft Center Director Debra Ruzinsky wanted to make the facility and its operations more environmentally friendly. So she called on Steven Sharp in Tech’s School of Environmental Studies for help.
“It was the perfect opportunity for our senior students to put together their skills as problem solvers and their knowledge of sustainability to come up with some solutions,” Sharp said.
His senior environmental and sustainability studies students took on the Craft Center as their degree capstone project, developing solutions for outdoor lighting, recycling and composting, a new building boiler system and student shuttle transportation alternatives.
The students made multiple trips to the Craft Center, touring areas in need of sustainable improvements and talking with staff there to gain insight on what would work.
“I was really impressed with their energy and ideas,” Ruzinsky said. “It was a great meeting of the minds for them to turn their knowledge and ideas into proposals that could actually work for our campus.”
For the students, it was a chance to work with a client and to think through the process of making spaces more sustainable in an in-depth way, going as far as finding funding for their proposed improvements.
The Craft Center already had a recycling program, but the students recommended updating and increasing the number of bins on the campus as well as adding a compost tumbler that could deal with food waste and provide fertile soil for the garden.
“We thought that could be a simple fix that could really go a long way in helping their sustainability,” said student Lindsay Mills. “They were very receiving of our ideas and excited about what we shared.”
To fund the new receptacles, the students helped the Craft Center develop a proposal to present to Tech’s Sustainable Campus Committee, which manages student fees that go toward campus sustainability efforts.
Lighting on the campus was another area the students found solutions for, identifying LED solutions that would offer not only more light to campus areas in the evening but would also be more efficient. The students looked at light color and light direction as well, to limit light pollution and impact on natural animal habitats nearby.
Because the Craft Center shuttles students from Tech’s main campus to its Smithville location, an alternatively powered bus was also an area where sustainability could have an impact. Currently, the Craft Center shuttle travels nearly 4,000 miles per month with students on board. Sharp’s students found a prototyped electric option that could be available soon as well as a compressed natural gas bus the Craft Center could convert to. The students also identified potential rural transit grants that could be considered to help with funding.
“The boiler on our campus, which plays a big role in the heating and cooling system, is about 30 years old, so the students took a look at that and had several conversations with our facilities crew here to talk through our needs as well,” Ruzinsky said.
Not all of the options the students found can be implemented right away. Even with the funding options identified in their research, things like the purchase of a new bus and the replacement of a boiler are expensive projects that will take time and collaboration to accomplish.
Ruzinsky will be meeting with Tech’s Sustainability Manager DeLayne Miller to work through the student proposals to see what can be done first. For the students it was a chance to see how their education may be applied in their next steps: career.“I think for me, I would like to be out in the field. Researching and planning is part of it of course, but in a career, I really want to be part of putting plans like this in place and seeing the execution of ideas like this that impact sustainability,” said student Elias Vaden. “It was really interdisciplinary, learning and working with different kinds of people.”