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Honors Students Prove It Can Be Easy To Be Green

August 10, 2010

Kermit the Frog said it best: "It's not easy being green."

When it comes to making decisions that benefit the environment, too many college-age people believe that. So a group of West Chester Honors College students set out to change their minds.

Stephanie Eckman, a junior majoring in Spanish and international relations, took the green initiative to heart. She and her colleagues created a way for students to learn quick and easy lifestyle changes based on sustainability.

"A lot of students find it hard to make eco-friendly decisions," Eckman explains. "Many think they can't tackle such a large topic as global warming and think their efforts doesn't matter. We wanted to show students that they can make small changes and have a big impact. It's bare bones, the small things. If enough people are doing that, we can change the world."

By taking a look at everyday tasks through a green filter and using WCU mascot Rammy, the students hope the suggestions are memorable enough to incorporate into daily routines.

The initiative debuted as a three-minute video shown at summer orientation for honors students. Plans call for a longer version (8:36 minutes) to be available on the University's sustainability website this fall. Right now, it's on YouTube: WCU Project Green Promotional Video

"We wanted it to be memorable," says Eckman. "The only part of my freshman orientation I remember is a video about the proper way to sneeze so you don't spread infections. That's the type of video we tried to do, and having Rammy in it really made it special."

The video takes Rammy through a day with one of the other students in Eckman's group – Andres Wewer – making suggestions about things Rammy could do differently. For example, Rammy could choose free-range eggs at breakfast, take less food at the cafeteria and create less waste, carry a refillable metal water bottle, take shorter showers, and so on.

“It’s changed me to know these things,” Eckman says. “I was one of the ‘global warming is a hoax’ people and this project made me think. Like the processes behind producing a plastic water bottle: how much energy is used, how much water – a non-renewable resource – is needed to produce the bottle itself. It’s enlightening.”

This summer, as a children’s activities director for a hotel in Wildwood, N.J., she’s more aware of sustainability, such as noticing cardboard that can be recycled. And she knows she has a golden opportunity to influence those young people with her actions.

“Being green seems elementary to me since I was raised to be green. But I was shocked to see how many people don’t practice it, like recycling.”

The assignment was part of the honors course called Technology and Environment taught by Joan Welch and Joy Fritschle. Although the students did not choose their topics, “We wanted to make this a useful project for the campus community. We all bring our strengths to the group,” says Eckman, who took on the role of cheerleader. The other students contributing to the project included Wewer, a junior majoring in anthropology and sociology; Annie Koempel, a junior majoring in history and anthropology; Rebecca Young and Elizabeth Mallozzi, sophomores majoring in music education; and Andrew Szypula, a sophomore music education and percussion performance major.

The project itself is sustainable since Wewer and Koempel are carrying it forward as their capstone project, with plans to expand upon Project Green next year. The expansion may include a training and informational program for students to attend to become “allies” of the environment. But it won’t include a printed guide, Eckman notes: “That would be environmentally unfriendly.”