Around 30 people gathered under the energy-efficient lighting of the College Eight Red Room over generous helpings of curry, white rice and spicy ginger cakes as a part of their ongoing potlucks. These students are planning to make UC Santa Cruz a zero-waste institution.

At the second Blueprint Breakout session of the quarter on Nov. 6, many students agreed educating their peers is both the greatest challenge and greatest necessity in creating a more ecologically sustainable environment.

“We have to educate people,” said Lily Urmann, the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Intern and the Earth Summit and Blueprint coordinator for the Student Environmental Center (SEC). “Then we can start thinking about water, reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency. But first, we need that backbone of support.”

Blueprint Breakout sessions are meetings hosted and coordinated by the SEC, a completely student-led and funded organization. The organization’s function is to encourage student participation through “research, education and implementation of environmentally sustainable practices on campus,” according to the SEC mission statement.

The breakout sessions, each dealing with a different topic, are open to all students, faculty and staff who want to brainstorm ideas for increasing sustainable practices at UCSC.

“Students sometimes don’t know what the Blueprint Breakout sessions are, and they feel like, ‘I can’t go because I don’t know enough about that topic,’” Urmann said. “But [the SEC] is trying to change that mindset. The point is to learn about the topic and think how we can improve that on campus. A lot of students have good ideas.”

All suggestions from the fall and winter quarter sessions create the Blueprint for a Sustainable Campus, a multipurpose document comprised of students’ visions for the future of UCSC’s sustainable growth. The Blueprint is compiled at the annual Earth Summit event in winter quarter.

Hosted by SEC, the Earth Summit provides students with the opportunity to unite their different passions for sustainability, social justice and education, all in one space.

“The Earth Summit is the celebration after all of the Blueprint Breakout sessions,” Urmann said. “There are workshops led where we discuss what happened in all the different breakout sessions throughout the year and how we are going to achieve those goals in the next year. [It] is also to get students excited about sustainability on campus.”

As the curry cooled and the cake-cutting commenced during the “Land, Habitat, Watershed and Green Building” breakout session, students concluded they wanted an interdisciplinary two-unit core course on UCSC’s natural history required for all freshmen, more nature hikes around the campus’s natural reserves to teach conservation, and training in sustainable living for all students residing on campus.

Cheslea Pack, the co-chair of personnel for the SEC, is glad she joined the organization because it made her more informed about the importance of sustainable practices and gave her a clear career direction.

“I got involved last winter with a two-unit internship because I had no idea what options there were, and now I’m getting really familiar with the environmental movement on campus,” Pack said at the co-chair meeting. “You make a lot of connections. I would love to work for a non-profit before applying to grad school.”

In addition to SEC members’ general feeling of empowerment, Urmann wants more Slugs to become actively involved in the organization because it is entirely funded by the Campus Sustainability Council (CSC).

“The SEC is all student-led, funded and initiated from the CSC,” Urmann said. “Students need to understand this is their money, and we are using it to fund student-initiated projects. If they care about where their money goes, they should care about helping us with these projects.”

Nicole Scott, the SEC co-chair for organizational development, feels strongly about student participation in the SEC because it provides real-world opportunities for making change happen.

“These kind of [student] organizations are what make you as a person in college,” Scott said. “By just sitting in your classes you can learn so many things, but until you get into a place where you can really use those skills and work with others to make your project happen, that’s what you’ll need after graduation.”


To learn how to get involved with the SEC, visit