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Summer 2009 | Caring for creation

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Female scientists
Web extra Hear student researchers Valerie Gray ’11, left, and Stacy Szczepanski ’09, discuss their plans for an environmentally responsible science facility. >>MORE

A green collaboration

By Lisa Strandberg

Faculty, students work together to formulate plans for a greener science facility

If the John Minahan Science Hall (JMS) currently sports a polyester lab coat, it seems poised to don an organic cotton one with its impending renovation.That’s the hope of Stacy Szczepanski ’09, Valerie Gray ’11, James Hodgson (Biology) and Michael Olson (Physics), who collaborated during the past academic year to research the feasibility and benefits of a green science facility.

“A year or so ago, Stacy came to me with an idea for an independent study she wanted to do,” Hodgson says of his student, an environmental policy major whom he had supported on similar projects in the past. “Then I got to thinking, ‘Why don’t we take this a step further?’ ”

Hodgson and Szczepanski involved Olson and Gray, a physics major, in the conversation, along with mechanical systems manager Lew Pullen (Facilities).Then the students dug in, pairing details on solar panel and residential wind turbine productivity with weather data from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Stacy did all the policy, and I got to do the science,” Gray says.

While the study will continue with the placement of a weather station atop JMS this spring to measure actual conditions there, the students have estimated conservatively that, by placing solar panels and wind turbines on the JMS roof, the college could generate 43 percent of the building’s electricity needs.That’s
significant since its numerous computers and laboratories make it one of the campus’s biggest energy hogs.

However, says Hodgson, making JMS green is “more than just an economic argument. It becomes the right thing to do in terms of what we say we are as an institution.”

Szczepanski and Gray shared their concepts and calculations with the board of trustees in May to persuade them that the renovation’s architects should be sustainability-focused up front. “For this project to be most beneficial, we need it to be green from the design phase,” Szczepanski says.

The students assert that JMS is the perfect specimen for exploring renewable energy on campus. Says Gray, “It’s the science building. If weird things are sticking out of it, that’s OK. … You can experiment on it. That’s in the spirit of science.”

Indeed, the JMS study considered the innovative educational opportunities that a green science facility would offer. “I foresee alternative energy devices on the roof coming down to some sort of monitoring system in the lobby,” Hodgson says, indicating that it could display “what we’re generating ourselves, what we’re saving and what we’re not generating in terms of carbon emissions.”

“One of the things we want to do is to make it part of a learning thing both on campus and off campus,” Gray says.

Campus sustainability champions envision even more for this renovation and for those that will follow. “Our overall goal with this whole project is to develop a green building standard for the whole college,” Szczepanski says. “That would be the most beneficial way for us to improve the campus.”

Summer 2009 magazine

Web extras Look here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Audio Fresh Ink
Original compositions by student musicians.

Photo Gallery Commencement 2009
A gallery of images from this major event in the academic calendar.

Text Extra Environmental ethics
Excerpts from a new work by Larry Waggle (Philosophy).

Text Extra An ocean of change
Tim Boyer ’89 on research honored with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Video A green collaboration
Student researchers talk about their plans for an environmentally responsible science facility.

Photo Gallery Lines of connection
A vibrant multicultural community depicted in new artwork on campus.

Photo Gallery Faces of Japan
Examining traditional and contemporary ideals of beauty.

Photo Gallery Fifty years at St. Norbert Abbey
A half-century of history celebrated this summer.

Story ideas? Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.

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