After such a hot summer, a cool campus will be a welcome change this fall. UC Merced is aiming to be the coolest by participating in the University of California’s inaugural systemwide Cool Campus Challenge.
And that’s just one of several events and new offerings by the sustainability leaders on campus.
The challenge is a competition between UC campuses to motivate and reward staff and faculty members and students for reducing their carbon footprints and help the UC system reach its carbon neutrality goals. President Janet Napolitano has pledged the UC will become carbon neutral by 2025, which would make it the first major university to reach that goal.
Through the competition, participants will be challenged to understand their own carbon footprints and pledge to take actions to reduce them. People can take part as individuals or teams, and every point earned by each participant counts for his or her campus. Points are tallied at the end, and the winning campus is crowned the Coolest UC Campus.
The challenge starts Oct. 6 and continues through Dec. 10. Signups will be taken during the week of Oct. 6, and each participant will be given instructions and guidance on how to score points. More information will be released in the coming week.
People can also visit the website for more information, tips and ideas.
Over the course of the campaign, different sustainable themes will be highlighted weekly and people can show off their participation by using the hashtag #UCool on social media.
Fellowships, Internships and More
The UC system encouraged campuses this year to choose undergraduates to receive awards under the President’s Sustainability Student Fellowship/Internship Program.
UC Merced’s fellows for this year are Adriana Gomez and Gabriel Morabe. Each received $2,500 toward projects that bring the campus closer to meeting carbon neutrality goals, including helping update the campus climate plan and doing campus outreach about neutrality.
One faculty member from each of the 10 UC campuses is also being selected this fall as climate action champions. Each will get $25,000 for a year to help incorporate climate-action solutions into course offerings and spread the word on their campuses about the importance of climate action. UC Merced’s faculty champion has not yet been selected.
Additionally this year, the UC Berkeley Big Ideas contest, designed to foster student innovation on critical issues, will include an energy and sustainability category that is open to all 10 campuses.
“UC Merced students have participated and been successful in the Big Ideas contest in the past, and we hope many of our students will bring their most creative plans forward this year,” Sustainability Director Colleen McCormick said. “Some of the Big Ideas projects have gone on to become successful startup companies.”
Events Happening on Campus
Besides the Cool Campus Challenge, there are many other green-themed events happening at UC Merced.
Everyone is invited to a new Sustainability Speaker series that kicks off Oct. 2 with a talk by David “Mas” Masumoto, whose book “Epitaph for a Peach” is this year’s common read.
The series continues Nov. 4 with a talk by Fedele Bauccio, CEO and co-founder of Bon Appétit Management Company, the company that supplies food to some private universities and to AT&T Park.
“He’s an advocate for sustainable food practices and local sourcing,” McCormick said. “He has a lot of great insight that would especially appeal to people in the community, because he has a lot to say about farmworkers’ rights and local food.”
The speaker series will focus on food this year to tie in with Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative.
This fall will also see the inaugural EcoFest, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 29 in the quad. The event is open to everyone in the campus community and the greater community, and will feature booths, live performances by students and lots of prizes for students.
Organizers will hand out reusable water bottles in keeping with the Refill not Landfill initiative funded by the Associated Students of UC Merced.
The student organizers are partnering with a variety of clubs and organizations, including Housing, TAPS and UC Merced Recycles for the event, and say they have planned a “Greeks Go Green” event and an “EcoRelay” among many other activities.
Opportunities for Student Involvement
Students can get involved in sustainability efforts in several ways in addition to the Cool Campus Challenge. They can participate in the Sustainability Writing Competition; they can apply to be next year’s Carbon Neutrality fellows and win money to support research projects that further the UC’s goal; they can reach out to McCormick to join in a community garden committee, the Chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee or the Student Sustainability Council, or help plan the Eco Festival; and those are just a few options.
The writing competition began last spring when Merritt Writing Program Co-Director Tom Hothem offered students the chance to write essays proposing sustainable steps the campus can take. The fall competition asks students to write about how they would redesign the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad to be more sustainable.
“The idea is to get students involved in sustainable campus planning by promoting their re-imagination of the places in which we live and work,” Hothem said. “After all, UC Merced is a living laboratory in a teachable landscape, and we owe it to ourselves to make our environs the subject of our scholarly inquiries.
“Given our region’s relatively limited water supply, what if we reimagined areas of campus that currently feature conventional, irrigation-intensive turf grass?”
The competition is designed to highlight student contributions. Winners get gift cards of $250 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place, are published in the Undergraduate Research Journal and contribute directly to Campus Planning for the 2020 Project.