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September 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Q&A: New sustainability coordinator discusses goals

Ithaca College’s Department of Energy Management and Sustainability has hired Becca Evans to serve as the new sustainability coordinator.

Evans received her Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies from Lynchburg College in 2010 and her master’s degree in environmental studies from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016. Before coming to the college, Evans worked as the assistant project manager for the Sustainable Richmond Virginia Project, a project through the Environic Foundation International, to create and execute a 35-year sustainability plan for the Richmond, Virginia, area.

Evans has replaced Mark Darling, who served in this position for over 30 years and is now working as the Sodexo sustainability coordinator.

Staff Writer Meaghan McElroy spoke with Evans about her experiences with environmentalism and her goals for the college.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Meaghan McElroy: What first got you interested in environmentalism?

Becca Evans: I grew up in the D.C. area, so I didn’t have a lot of natural areas around. I was certainly always intrigued by it. My dad has always been a hippie since he was in high school, so I think he had a really big influence on me. … I went to a small liberal arts school. … When I graduated, I was actually the first class to graduate with an environmental science degree. That whole idea got me really excited about it, and the more I learned about it and the more that I got involved, the more I realized, “This is where I belong. I really like helping people, but I also like helping animals, and I really like being outside. … It’s always been something that I’ve cared about it just so happens that I didn’t discover it could be a career until I came to college.

MM: What has been your favorite past project before coming to Ithaca?

BE: In terms of how much impact, definitely Sustainable RVA. … I worked with a lot of different people, and I got to meet a lot of different people and see different perspectives on the same issues, which varies so much. It gives you a whole lot better idea of how you can reach a middle ground because you think, Oh, I never thought that a business would care so much about recycling and how much it costs to do that. … One of the projects, in particular, that we worked on was a pilot program with K–12 students. What we were trying to do was integrate sustainability into the curriculum for all students … starting with really basic stuff … all the way up to the systems thinking in 12th-grade science classes and all that sort of stuff. We actually got a pilot working in Goochland County in February … which is a suburb of Richmond city. I think that’s been my favorite because kids are our future, and if we’re not preparing them, then what are we doing here?

MM: What are your thoughts on the current state of sustainability at Ithaca College?

BE: There’s a severe lack of communication. There are actually a lot of things happening on campus. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with people in multiple different departments and students in multiple different departments, and they’re all working on a lot of stuff, but nobody knows about it. So there’s a lot of, That used to be a thing, but it’s kind of gone by the wayside, and it’s not happening now.” But really, what’s happening is that we’ve had a little bit of restructuring, and maybe it has a different name now, but those are projects that are very much alive. … I think that the best part about IC is that there’s so much passion for sustainability and not just in the environmental science students or natural science students, which you see in a lot of different schools.

MM: What do you hope to get done and accomplish here at the school?

BE: I’d really like to see some sort of sustainability testing. … If we can get a baseline of what freshman know when they come in here — how much do they know about sustainability — and to me, sustainability is much more thanOK, we need to recycle and our impact on the environment. … If we can get a baseline of where the students are at when they come in, that makes it a lot easier to see where we need to go and what holes we need to fill. If it’s a curriculum problem, that will show, and if it’s a lifestyle problem, that will show. It’s just about framing those questions in the right way to pinpoint exactly what the issue is. If there’s one thing that I’d like to be my baby at this school, that’s what it would be. … I’ve also heard whispers about a sustainability committee. I think that would be really, really beneficial — something that’s interdepartmental and that includes students, includes faculty and includes staff because those are the stakeholders here. If we could get some people from the community involved, that would be great.

MM: You mentioned something about what sustainability is and isn’t. What does sustainability mean to you?

BE: Really simply, sustainability is the longevity of a system, and that can be any system. … The root of sustainable comes from economics, and all of a sudden, we’re seeing a shift towards environmentalism. Even on this campus, you’re seeing people creeping away from sustainable because it’s kind of become hyper-focused on recycling and trash. That’s not the case — it’s a lot more encompassing than that. … If we could take a few steps backwards and get our definition back to that, we’ll all go Oh, there’s a lot more that we can do other than throw our stuff away in the right can and turning off our lights.

MM: What are you most excited about at Ithaca?

BE: I’m really excited to work with the students. It seems like there’s a lot of tension right now on campus involving a lot of different issues. … One, I’d like to see some ownership of these issues. … If we’re fostering these problems, it’s not necessarily one person’s fault. This is an entire community working on fostering these problems. So I’m excited — maybe excited isn’t the right word — to see how these things unfold, especially with the new president. … I’m also really excited to work with our Eco-Reps. There’s so much passion in that group of students that I think they have the opportunity to make a really big difference, not only on campus but after they leave as well because they are really talented. I just want to help IC reach their goals, whether that’s with sustainability or otherwise.

Meaghan McElroy can be reached at mmcelroy@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meaghan_mcelroy