Pellissippi State Community College is set when fall semester begins to be the first community college in Tennessee to implement a sustainability fee. What’s impressive is that the fee was initiated by and has the support of the students.
Last year the college earned a Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award in recognition of its commitment to recycling and conservation. Now, the “green fee” will allow the two-year institution to further invest in sustainable practices on its campuses.
The option of adding the sustainability fee was put to the student body fall 2010, and nearly three-quarters of those surveyed voted “yes.” The students chose to pay an extra $10 per semester, the limit on green fees allowed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, Pellissippi State’s governing body.
“We hope the fee will allow us to consider sustainable efforts such as buying recycling barrels for the other campuses, upgrading our lighting to be more energy-efficient and installing solar panels on campus,” said Terry Martin, the most recent student recycling coordinator.
Ultimately, decisions on how the dollars are spent will reside with a committee of students, faculty and staff created for that purpose. Typical uses of the money at four-year schools—some of whose fees are student-driven, some of whose are mandated by the institutions—include purchase of green power from utility companies and enhancement of energy efficiency. Fees vary nationally from $1 to $40-plus per semester.
A history of environmental concern
Pellissippi State, both the 37-year-old institution and the student body, has a long track record of environmental efforts. When the college received the 2010 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award, a host of different actions carried out over the past year were cited.
Among the institutional efforts:
- Sustainable practices in building the new Blount County Campus
- Construction of a recycling collection trailer by Facilities staff
- Increased green course offerings by the non-credit Business and Community Services Division
Among the student-driven activities:
- Paper reduction campaigns
- Earth Day participation
- Roll Out the Barrel unveiling of recycling bins
- Recyclemania national intercollegiate competition
- Spring Fling contest by student clubs to create usable objects from recycled materials
“Our students have been participating in recycling efforts on and off for maybe 20 years,” said Ron Kesterson, vice president of Business and Finance.
“The most recent move toward recycling started in 2008,” said Ann Kronk. Kronk is an associate professor who teaches ecology and an advisor for the Pellissippi State chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.
“Paige Hopf [a student member of PTK who has since graduated] posed the question, ‘Where are the recycling bins?’” said Kronk. At that point the college had a small number of recycling barrels, and only on the Pellissippi Campus. Another PTK student, Mary Denman, became involved in expanding recycling efforts and first expressed the idea of a green fee that would pay for more recycling.
But the students were not alone in their thinking. Anne Swartzlander, a Business Administration professor, conducted a focus group on recycling in her Marketing class. David Walton, director of Facilities, calculated how much waste was generated by the college. Facilities staff then enclosed an area in the Pellissippi Campus courtyard to demonstrate the volume.
Spring semester of 2008 the student Recycling Club was born.
“Students decided something had to be done,” said Kronk, “and a green movement of sorts began that year when they began recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans, with students, staff, and faculty volunteering to do the manual labor.”
The birth of a green fee
Long-term maintenance of any one sustainability effort is especially difficult for a community college—a place in which students enter and leave more or less on a two-year schedule and where the entire student population is transient because everyone lives off campus. A green fee would provide the support Pellissippi State needed to tackle ongoing environmental sustainability.
The idea of a green fee had its genesis in one person. Embracing the idea and making it a reality took a village of students, faculty and staff.
“It was in 2009 that PTK first started to petition students about the support for a green fee,” said Kronk. About the same time, Kim Thomas, director of Student Life and Recreation, along with Denman and other students, began informally surveying clubs, classrooms and ad hoc clusters of students.
When the Blount County Campus opened in August 2010, a student once again queried: “Where do I recycle my drink can?” This time, the question was directed to Holly Burkett, the site’s assistant dean, and Allen Edwards, Pellissippi State president, as they greeted entering students on the first day of classes.
Pellissippi State had made major efforts in the new campus’ construction to include the latest environmentally friendly technologies and practices. Among the site additions were charging stations for alternative-fuel vehicles, reserved parking for carpools and significant space for bicycles.
In response to the inquiring student, the president made a call immediately to bring in more recycling containers. He also appointed Thomas and Martin, under the oversight of Rebecca Ashford, vice president of Student Success and Enrollment Management, to survey students formally with the intent of proposing a green fee to TBR.
The rest is not just history—it’s historic. The college’s top administrator, Allen Edwards, endorsed the green fee, and TBR has approved. And now, Pellissippi State is the first of its peers to establish the means to continue sustainability efforts long term.