By Hannah Buoye

After its second successful year, College Eight’s Sustainability Project has been nationally recognized by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). It won this year’s Outstanding Project Award at the ACPA’s annual conference in Orlando, FL for its innovative approach toward first-year college programs.

Established in the Fall of 2005, the project was created to provide a community-based, “hands-on” experience to supplement the core class’s theme of “Environment and Society.”

Program directors Heidi Lewin and Joy Pehlke run the project through the College Eight’s program office. It is designed to increase community environmental awareness by focusing on sustainable practices within the college’s community. This goal is accomplished through drawing connections between food and waste production.

Sarah Black, College Eight second-year student and current member of the Student Environmental Center (SEC), says of the program’s merit, “I think the project is important in opening up a world of opportunity for students to learn hands on about things they can do to make the world more sustainable.”

The Sustainability Project functions in conjunction with several environmental organizations on campus, such as the Student Environmental Center (SEC) and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).

The project is composed of five groups: Waste Watchers, Hidden Connections within Food Waste, Harvest for Health, Jump to the Dump, and Homeless Garden Project. Each student selects one group, participates in that group’s activities, and later reflects on the experience. The explored topics range from the amount of waste created in dining halls and dorms to organic farming and sustainable food production on the UCSC farm.

According to Caitlin Donnellan, a senior working for the College Eight Waste Reduction Program, the Waste Watchers group leads 12 students to various College Eight recycling facilities. Students learn about the mechanics and significance of composting and are put to work reducing waste within the College Eight community.

After the crash course in composting, students are led on a “recycling tour” to monitor dorm’s recycling bins. Later, at the recycling facility, students don rubber gloves and sort through bins to assess how much of the contents are actually recyclable.

“Yes, sorting!” Donnellan said with a touch of amusement. “With gloves, and their heads in smelly, garbage-contaminated bins…[there] were quite a few students who weren’t a fan of the experience, but there were also a number of students who thought that, while disgusting, it was necessary and informative.”

In addition to sorting through the college’s waste, students take part in other activities. Participants go to the UCSC farm to learn about food production with the Harvest for Health project. Other programs, such as the Homeless Gardens and Jump to the Dump, focus on the larger Santa Cruz community.

After experiencing the Harvest for Health project, one first-year student said, “ it has shown me how everything is connected, how compost is made and distributed, how researchers work with the farmers, and what it takes to grow our food.”

The Sustainability Project’s directors hope that with the national recognition and abundance of positive student feedback, other colleges will begin to adapt the College Eight model for their curriculums. In addition to the shared experience of the classroom, students would experience the community building provided through service learning opportunities.