RU Releases Its First-Ever Strategic Sustainability Plan: a Roadmap for the Future

The Plan!

The Plan, at long last!

I’m very pleased to report that the last step of our 2014-15 strategic planning process for the sustainable future of Roosevelt is now complete: the university has officially released its Strategic Sustainability Plan this week. This is not only great news, but also a tribute to the hard work and collective efforts of the students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni who drafted the plan in Fall 2014 and shepherded its endorsement and approval by the university’s faculty senate and administrative leadership in Spring 2015.

I want to especially commend SUST major MaryBeth Radeck, who did vital background research on sustainability planning in Spring 2014 for her SUST 395 internship, then managed the planning workshops as well as wrote/edited the plan document in Fall 2014; Paul Matthews and Tom Shelton of Physical Resources, who were co-leaders on the planning process and have supported RU’s sustainability work since 2010; Beeka Quesnell and Mary Rasic, SUST majors and Environmental Sustainability Associates in Physical Resources during 2014-15, who provided tremendous logistical support for the planning workshops; and my students in SUST 390 Sustainable Campus, who took on the initial task of researching baseline data in the Spring 2015 semester for RU’s first STARS assessment, one of the key steps that will help us drive the Plan forward in 2015 and beyond.

Check the full plan out here on the RU Green Campus website, and join the effort to work on its many goals and priority projects. There’s lots to do, so the more folks we have on board, the better!

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Congratulations to Roosevelt’s May 2015 Graduates!

A warm congratulations to all Roosevelt University graduates, young and old, today as you grace the stage of RU’s beautiful Auditorium Theatre. In particular, I salute the accomplishments of our seven Sustainability Studies graduates this spring, soon to be proud alumni: Melanie Blume, Colleen Dennis, Jordan Ewbank, Ana Molledo, Kelsey Norris, Beeka Quesnell, and Jesse Williams.

Congrats to all on your achievements, hard work, and perseverance in earning your degree and, in the process, making countless positive contributions to our campus community. Best wishes for the future! I’m proud of all of you.

RU Graduation 2015

 

For more photos, check out #Roosevelt2015 on Twitter. . .

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Bikes, Tweets, and Symposia on Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Here at Roosevelt, we’ve got some great events to mark the day, which I will start with a humble but well-intentioned two-mile bike ride to my train station in Joliet for my morning commute to Chicago, in honor of #RUEarthWeek2015 (pdf). Then, after dutifully putting in a few morning hours in my office, I shall repair to the Wabash Building (425 S. Wabash Ave, downtown Chicago) for these activities:

1-2pm (WB 1317) — Join me on Twitter (@MikeBryson22) for an #RUjusticechat on the relations between campus sustainability efforts and social/environmental justice. You can chat from wherever you are in the world . . . but if you’re in my neck of the woods, stop by WB 1317 for some F2F interaction and home-made cookies!

3-5:30pm (WB 616) — Attend the 2015 SUST Student Symposium, the signature Sustainability Studies event of the semester. Learn about the research and internship projects undertaken by four of our Sustainability Studies majors this year, and enjoy great conversation as well as free refreshments aplenty, courtesy of RU’s Physical Resources Dept. Hosted by the students of my SUST 390 Sustainable Campus class, who are undertaking RU’s first-ever STARS sustainability assessment this spring.

Bike2CampusWeek 2015 Flyer_Version2

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Earth Week Events at Roosevelt

Earth Week 2015 at RU

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Writing Urban Nature: A One-Week Intensive Summer Course in Chicago, May 18-22

SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature flier 2015-04-13Still plenty of room in this new one-week-intensive summer course! Pre-session is next Wed., May 6th, at 4:3pm in Gage 218. For more detailed information on my summer intensive course, check out this Writing Urban Nature preview; and share a pdf version of the image above via email.

 

 

Posted in Chicago, Classes, Education, Faculty, Field Trips, Humanities, Literature, Parklands, Roosevelt, Students, Sustainability, Urban nature | Comments Off on Writing Urban Nature: A One-Week Intensive Summer Course in Chicago, May 18-22

Mitchell’s Food Mart — A Thriving Throwback in Joliet

This essay was published as an op-ed piece entitle “Mitchell’s Still Has Magic for Me” in the Joliet Herald-News, p14, on 30 December 2010. I offer it here five years later as a commentary on supporting local economies and celebrating the unique small businesses in our home towns. Gladly, business is still good!

Normally I utterly detest shopping. But a few days before Christmas when my wife noted we were running low on some staple food items, I seized the opportunity with gusto: “Great, honey! I’ll run to Mitchell’s.”

Mitchell's signA small, nondescript building with a friendly 1960s-vintage lighted sign, Mitchell’s Food Mart on Raynor Avenue in Joliet is the epitome of the small neighborhood grocery store, one run by the same family since opening sixty years ago.

Walking inside is like a journey back in time. Customers carefully guide half-size shopping carts down four or five narrow aisles packed full with meticulously arranged inventory. Each item features a little orange price tag that has been applied by hand (no UPC scanning here). The one register for checkout features a friendly and efficient employee who actually knows how to bag groceries and make proper change, both of which are lost arts.

Mitchell's street viewThe utterly delightful candy section, strategically placed alongside the checkout line, reminds me of every corner drugstore’s sweets aisle from my childhood days. It’s got a little bit of everything, much of which (in keeping with the store’s small-is-beautiful theme) is available in minute quantities. My two girls go gaga picking out five-cent Tootsies as rewards for being cooperative sidekicks.

The heart and soul of Mitchell’s, though, is the butcher counter in the back, a supremely wonderful meat-eater’s paradise (vegetarians stop reading now). The first thing I do here is grab a number, because Mitchell’s has the wisdom to use this time-honored system that is sadly neglected at most supermarket delis.

Above the lunchmeat slicers are posted the current won-loss records of Chicago’s sports teams, adjusted seasonally and updated daily. I always check the scores, then pause to regard the squadron of white-aproned butchers expertly plying their trade behind the counter, a sight I find endlessly fascinating.

Here in the queue is where one best experiences the singular magic of Mitchell’s. As folks stand waiting for their portions of hand-cut bacon or tender rump roast to be wrapped up in neat white paper, they inevitably start chatting. Time and again, I’ve had wonderfully entertaining conversations there with total strangers, or mini-reunions with old acquaintances.

From the outside, it’s hard to imagine how a small-scale operation like Mitchell’s survives, even thrives, in this era of cavernous supermarkets with their national supply-chain economics and over-the-top product selection.

But from the inside, it’s easy to see how.

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Interdisciplinarity, Sustainability, & Service Learning

A little while back, I was asked by some of my environmental studies colleagues outside of RU to briefly describe my take on interdisciplinary scholarship in under 200 words. Here’s what I came up with:

An interdisciplinary scholar can speak different disciplinary languages, recognize how they work together, and use that facility to say something unique in the process. Interdisciplinary scholarship is about integration: fitting things together in a complementary, cohesive, creative fashion so that the whole is niftier than the mere sum of its parts. I’ve sung in choirs where men and women blend the different pitches and timbres of their voices in 4, 6, even 8 part harmony. At its best, interdisciplinary work is like that: creating beautiful music from difference, even the occasional dissonance, such as in the give-and-take dialogue of interdisciplinary team-teaching. While most university landscapes remain dominated by disciplinary silos, interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship open up new ground for discovery and connect faculty and students working on problems of mutual interest. 

The last few years I’ve taught in and directed the Sustainability Studies program here at Roosevelt, the curriculum for which was designed in a consciously interdisciplinary fashion to integrate methods and insights from the natural and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. My own academic background in biology and literature, as well as my many years of working within a multidisciplinary faculty teaching general education to returning adult students in RU’s College of Professional Studies, means I have keen interest in integrating knowledge and research methods from the humanities and natural sciences — something that is an excellent fit within the inherently interdisciplinary endeavors of environmental studies and the newly emerging sustainability studies. In a previous post, I reflect on the relevance/importance of the arts and humanities to matters of environmental science and policy.

Another thought is that service learning provides a powerful vehicle for interdisciplinary teaching and learning — both within the context of a single (potentially interdisciplinary) class as well as in the collaboration of two or more courses from different academic departments. A fascinating model for this is the Sustainable City Year Program, pioneered recently by the University of Oregon and spun off in various ways by other US colleges and universities. This is an action-oriented and sustainability-directed approach to interdisciplinary learning and scholarship that can be tailored to the particular strengths and capacities of a given university.

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Metropolitan Farms Internship for Spring/Summer 2015

Here is an announcement for unpaid internships at a new aquaponics urban farm on the West Side of Chicago, available starting in April.

Metro Farms logoMetropolitan Farms is a commercial scale urban farm that is dedicated to the growth and development of aquaponic farming in Chicago. By condensing the agricultural food chain, reducing the use of water and electricity, and converting unusables to healthy consumables as efficiently as possible, we aim to foster an agricultural revolution. They produce organic and chemical free edible plants and fish in our advanced aquaponics system, which will be distributed all over the Chicago area.

Source: Metropolitan Farms

Source: Metropolitan Farms

We are looking for two reliable, hardworking, and passionate people to help us with the beginning stages of our aquaponic planting and harvesting process.

Time Frame:

  • April-July
  • 4-6 hours per week

Requirements:

  • Experience with plant production and care preferred
  • Access to a car with a valid drivers license
  • Familiarity with aquaponics preferred
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Great work ethic
  • High attention to detail
  • Ability to work independently as well as part of a team

Compensation

  • This opportunity is an unpaid educational internship.

For more information, visit our website and our Facebook page. To apply, send an email to Ashley Luciani at alucianigarden@gmail.com with “Metropolitan Farms Internship” in the subject line. Please let her know a little about yourself, your experience with urban farming or gardening, and why you would be interested in joining this endeavor. Make sure to provide the best way to reach you.

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Welcome to Roosevelt and to Chicago, Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, RU’s President-elect

Ali_Malekzadeh-200pxYesterday I attended a rare event in the history of any university: a reception honoring the formal election of new president. Faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni, and trustees gathered in the glorious space of Roosevelt’s Murray-Green Library on the 10th floor of the landmark Auditorium Building to welcome Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, Roosevelt’s sixth president, who will take over the leadership of our institution on July 1st, 2015.

One notable thing about yesterday’s reception was that four generations of RU presidents were in attendance: Chuck Middleton, our current president; Ted Gross, who led RU from 1988 to 2002, and was president when I was hired in 1996; and Rolf Weil, who presided from 1964 to 1988. Dr. Weil is very elderly now, but still with it — and it was inspiring to see him obviously enjoying the proceedings. Like him, President-elect Ali (as he kindly insisted on being called, rather than by his full name and title) is a business-oriented lifelong academic, rather than the last two presidents who came from literature and history, respectively.

I got to speak with Dr. Malekzadeh twice, albeit briefly, and found him funny, warm, articulate, charming, and friendly. He seemed very comfortable working a room and schmoozing, and perhaps that is among the many important qualities a president must have. When I identified myself simply as “Mike Bryson, Sustainability Studies,” with no other explanation, he looked at me keenly and said emphatically, “That is the future. We will talk.” I can only guess at his true feelings on the subject of sustainability and higher ed — but his response seemed to imply that on an important fundamental level, he gets it. We will see!

I wish President-elect Malekzadeh all the best in what I hope will be a long and fruitful career for him at Roosevelt as he leads us through a tremendous time of transition and, it must be noted, great financial challenges. His reputed fundraising acumen will be most welcome and is urgently needed.

Selected press articles: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and Daily Herald

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Sustainability and Biodiversity at the Field Museum

Last Monday, as a warm 60+ degree (F) day enveloped downtown Chicago in a splendid preview of spring, my students and I hiked from Roosevelt’s Gage Building in the Loop to the lakefront, where we strolled southward to that great edifice of natural history and biodiversity, the Field Museum. Once there, we met up with Carter O’Brien, the Museum’s sustainability manager (who basically created the job over a number of years after spearheading the FMNH’s recycling program). Carter gave us a comprehensive walking tour of the museum’s grounds, community garden, and loading dock.

SUST 210 visits the FMNH with Carter O'Brien (front left), the museum's sustainability manager (aka "green guru")

SUST 210 visits the FMNH with Carter O’Brien (front left), the museum’s sustainability manager (aka “green guru”)

Along with many of staff and researchers at the FMNH, Carter has spearheaded the museum’s efforts to green its practices in energy consumption, waste management, food service, recycling, transportation, exhibit design, and gardening. Despite being an institution dedicated to studying and conserving the world’s rich trove of biodiversity, the Field Museum until recently was not at all sustainable in its own operations, an irony not lost on environmental advocates such as Carter and many of his museum colleagues. Now the FMNH is a recognized leader in transforming old buildings into sustainably-managed facilities, as it recently garnered a LEED Gold rating on its operations and maintenance from the US Green Building Council, only the 2nd existing museum building in the US to do so, and it has just received a $2 million grant to redevelop its grounds within Chicago’s famed Museum Campus in ways that enhance biodiversity, water conservation, and public education.

Carter brought us inside through the seemingly ancient (and surprisingly small) loading dock, thorough a phalanx of heavy doors, narrow passageways, and claustrophobic elevators (all part of the FM’s 19th Century charm), and to the Botany research division, one of the four major research/collections areas of the museum. There we met up with the equally ebullient Dr. Matt Von Konrat, who has many titles at the museum but is best known as an early land plant botanist (which means he studies mosses and liverworts both here and abroad) and the Head of Botanical Collections at the museum.

Dr. Matt Von Konrat in the Botany Collection at the FMNH (photo: M. Wasinka)

Dr. Matt Von Konrat in the Botany Collection at the FMNH (photo: M. Wasinka)

Dr. Von Konrat was kind enough to set up a sampling of preserved plant specimens from the Museum’s vast collection, which when arrayed on a huge wooden table represented a journey of 500 million years of land plant evolution. Many of these examples had special significance as type specimens, which are recognized as being archetypal examples of the species that are used for benchmarking certain key identifying characteristics.

Photo: M. Wasinka

Photo: M. Wasinka

One plant, a particularly tiny moss, held special significance in a recent court case about Burr Oak Cemetery scandal  in the far South Side Chicago neighborhood of Dunning. Cemetery caretakers dug up several hundred human remains and dumped them in a mass grave in order to sell additional plots in the cemetery over a several year period. The moss was part of forensic evidence analyzed by Dr. Von Konrat that proved the involvement of cemetery employees in this heinous crime. The story illustrates the profoundly important role that environmental evidence can play in forensics, and the potential value in aligning the study of botany (and sustainability) with that of criminal justice.

After both of these splendid tours, my students and I ventured forth into the public area of the museum — its exhibits, naturally! — where we inspected the notable (and LEED Gold certified) conservation exhibit, Restoring Earth, which documents FMNH efforts to conserve natural and human communities in South America as well as restore local prairie, woodland, and wetland ecosystems here in the Chicago region.

Photo: M. Wasinka

Photo: M. Wasinka

Posted in Biodiversity, Chicago, Classes, Education, Faculty, Field Trips, Green jobs, Internships, Roosevelt, Science, Students, Sustainability, Waste & Recycling, Wildlife | Comments Off on Sustainability and Biodiversity at the Field Museum