While enrolling in a chemical and molecular science course may seem daunting for students not in the field, those in Maya Endoh’s sustainable energy course are getting real-world experience planning sustainable projects, many using the Stony Brook campus for inspiration.
Endoh, a research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, discovered soon after the semester began that many of the students enrolled in the class are in majors outside of STEM. Since the course — CME 201 Sustainable Energy – Evaluating the Options — satisfies a Stony Brook curriculum TECH requirement (required for all majors), Endoh saw that students in the class were from majors such as business, political science, Africana studies and English.
“I know I had to figure out how to motivate these students in a three-hour lecture. We began talking about why sustainability and sustainable energy is important in everyday life, and discussing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 17 goals developed by the United Nations as an urgent call for all countries,” said Endoh. “I talked a lot about the SDGs and how in different countries, companies and products list their SDGs in advertisements, and I realized that this is something that varies from place to place, culture to culture.”
The United States lags behind countries such as Japan in their SDG efforts. Japan has embraced SDGs, with board games, comic books, playgrounds, and travel companies that offer SDG trips in which guests may learn about how Japan is working toward achieving sustainability goals.
Endoh spoke to the class about why we are not conscious about sustainability and divided the class of about 45 students into nine groups to brainstorm proposals.
Two of the groups focused on campus electricity usage and campus efforts to conserve energy using data published from the Office of Energy Management, while another group focused on organizing a food drive to benefit the Stony Brook Food Pantry. One group surveyed students on plastic container usage at on-campus dining facilities and one focused on water conservation and efforts to reduce the minutes spent in the shower in on-campus residence halls. The final group proposed a book donation initiative to benefit underprivileged children.
The group projects allowed students to consider sustainability issues impacting our country as well as those impacting the campus.
Roderick Kea is a fourth-year Africana studies major and is a member of the group organizing a food drive to benefit the on-campus food pantry. “New York is one of 40 states that don’t offer universal meals for its school kids. We first started a change.org campaign to guarantee free school meals for all children in New York, and then came up with the idea of the food drive to benefit students in need on campus,” Kea said.
The projects also encouraged students to look at their own daily use of sustainable materials and to see where small changes in their own lives could make an impact on larger sustainability efforts. Ciara M. Quinones, a first-year student majoring in civil engineering, is a member of the group that investigated student on-campus use of plastic in dining facilities by surveying students about their habits.
“The project made me realize how much we can save, earn and contribute to something. After analyzing my own activities and participation, I concluded that decreasing the use of plastic has significant advantages for both individuals and the community at large by developing sustainable habits and lowering pollution,” Quinones said.
“I can lecture about fusion and fission but if I talk about SDGs and how these relate to students in their everyday life, this will impact them in the future and in their future goals and careers as they work in businesses and think about the environmental impact of their work,” said Endoh. “In order to proceed, we all need to be concerned about sustainability, and realize that together, maybe we can change something, and that was my goal to teach.”
— Beth Squire