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Revised Program Gets Thumbs-up from Student Eco-Reps

student eco reps 2016-17
January 3, 2017

An evaluation of the Student Eco-Reps program over the past few years led to some changes which were launched this fall. Instead of having a large group of students separately representing College Houses, Greek Life, Athletics, and Hillel, there are now a dozen Eco-Reps and three Student Coordinators, who were all selected through a competitive application process and have the opportunity to develop projects focused on improving the environmental footprint of the University. Working directly with Penn’s Sustainability Office and other campus stakeholders, they work in small groups to design, pilot, and evaluate one major environmental project throughout the academic year.

Eco-Reps will continue to serve as sustainability ambassadors to the University and participate in educational outreach activities focused on making positive environmental impact towards Penn’s Climate Action Plan.

“I wanted to be a part of the program again this year specifically because of the changes that were made,” said Emma Shenton, a sophomore in the College planning to major in Environmental Studies and Urban Studies. “There are fewer members in Eco-Reps this year than last year, and that has created more of a community between us. I thought we could make a more tangible impact on Penn’s sustainability scene this year as we are committed to one year-long project. I want to see Penn pursue sustainability as much as possible, and I want to be as involved as I can be in that.”

Other Eco-Reps agreed, including Artemis Tiburcio: “Unlike in past years, Eco-Reps this year focuses on creating a tight-knit community that works on group projects to better Penn's sustainability efforts. With this specialization [on a single project], we are able to have better direction of our responsibilities as well as feel a greater sense of accomplishment for calling a project our own.”

One element of the Eco-Reps program that remains consistent is the emphasis on peer education. Tiffany Yung, a junior in Wharton studying management and environmental policy, prefers “framing sustainability in a way our peers can best understand it and trying to understand where they come from (e.g. what they are studying and how that can connect to the environment) rather than [commenting that they are] doing something that is not environmentally friendly (or "teaching" them what's right or wrong).”

Activities throughout the year are designed to combine education and team bonding. A September retreat was a highlight for many, including Karen Chi, a sophomore in the College and Wharton. “We got to do a lot of activities together, such as canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and hiking,” she said, “and had the opportunity to discuss the direction of the program.”  Emma Shenton pointed to the walking tours exploring more of the sustainable aspects of campus. They have toured Penn Park, the orchard, and the bee enclosure; Shoemaker Green and its rain garden; Kaskey Park and several edible gardens on campus. “We have also walked down Locust Walk learning about the history of Penn’s campus and the logic behind the landscaping and infrastructure. These tours have been some of my favorite parts because I have learned so much,” she said.

This focused group of students also offers some recommendations on actions that Penn can take in support of environmental sustainability. “Even though Penn does a lot of projects in the realm of sustainability…I would like to see Penn promote this image more, especially for freshmen who will then engage more with the brand and create the most impact,” said Artemis. Karen thinks “more news on what Penn is doing to be sustainable will influence students' own lifestyle habits.”

Undergraduates who’d like to learn more about Eco-Reps can visit https://www.sustainability.upenn.edu/eco-reps/student-eco-reps and look at the website in Spring 2017 for the next opportunity to apply to the program.

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