SIU celebrates Earth Month, furthers sustainability efforts

By Elena Schauwecker, Staff Reporter

At any given time, SIU’s research in sustainability is working across disciplines to promote a cleaner, healthier environment and battle against climate change. In celebration of Earth Month, the sustainability office has organized a series of events to recognize these departments as well as help students to get outside, enjoy nature and learn about preserving the beautiful campus.

These events began on April 1 and will be in progress for the rest of the month. The sustainability office has hosted urban cycling classes encouraging students to reduce pollution by biking, a plant-based cooking club teaching students to lower meat consumption and a Salukis Speak discussion allowing students to discuss environmental issues. 

On Earth Day, April 22, the Sustainability Council will be announcing the recipients for the Student Green Fund. Justin Schoof, the director of Earth systems and sustainability, said this fund provides students an opportunity to start their own innovative environmental projects. 

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“You’ve probably noticed some of these projects around campus, which include solar powered picnic tables where you can charge a phone or laptop, water fountains that encourage reusable container use and many others,” Schoof said. 

SIU holds multiple titles as an environmentally friendly school, such as its distinction as a Tree Campus USA destination. Jon Schoonover, a professor of physical hydrology and soils in the forestry department, developed the program of placing 135 QR codes on trees across campus as a means for students to be able to distinguish different types of trees.  

The forestry department has participated in many research projects to help promote sustainability. Karl Williard, program coordinator and professor of the forestry program, said he and his students are currently working on improving water quality, an essential project that can potentially benefit both soil fertility and drinking water in situations like Flint, Michigan. 

“Dr. Schoonover and I did a series of research projects looking at how Giant Kane (a bamboo species) can function to protect water quality,” Williard said. 

Williard said sustainability is an essential part of the forestry department, one which often gets forgotten. 

“Forestry sometimes gets forgotten a little bit in terms of what we do for sustainable management,” Williard said. “That’s how we view the training that we provide, is a lot of sustainable forest and sustainable natural resource management. That sustainability word is a big part of what we’re doing.” 

Zoology is another field dedicated to sustainability. Margorie Brooks, a zoology professor, specializes in limnology, the study of lakes. 

“She’s been really active in creating hands-on research opportunities for students to study lakes and challenges that lakes have, like the bacteria that we had in campus lake a few years ago. She leveraged the Green Fund Grant Program to fund a project that would collaborate engineering and biology,” Karen Schauwecker, the sustainability program coordinator, said. 

In this project, the biology students tested lake quality while engineering students came up with prototypes and designs for solar-powered fountains that would pump air into the lake, leaving oxygen in the water that would make it difficult for bacteria to survive. 

Schauwecker said it is extremely common for such collaborations to occur, as sustainability is a far-reaching concept that affects many areas of study such as engineering, law and geography. Technology is also on the rise within environmental studies; Williard said his department uses automated water samplers as well as common devices like GPS. 

“Instead of it being a solid thing that you can point to and touch, it’s more about a perspective and a process that can be incorporated into almost any discipline,” Schauwecker said about sustainability. 

 Schauwecker said she would like to encourage students to come to the remaining Earth Month events on campus, such as Eco-Rep’s Dye a Reusable Bag workshop that will take place on East campus April 28, but more importantly she said the best way for students to help make a difference is to learn about the environment and make little adjustments in their everyday lives. 

 “Sustainability really should be viewed through a lens of equity and justice as well,” Schauwecker said. “We want people to enjoy and use all that nature gives us, but we also want to ensure that everyone has access to those things. We want to make sure that our nieces and nephews and grandkids also have safe water, clean air, healthy food. It’s about the environment, but it’s also about humans.”

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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