I took Sustainability 401 in the fall of my sophomore year after taking environmental science in high school. At the time, all I knew was that I was interested in the natural world around me and wanted to learn more about how to make a difference. I had never heard of the Sustainability Dual Major, and had no idea that it would turn out to be one of my favorite UNH experiences. After going to the first few classes, I found that SUST 401 provided an excellent introduction to sustainability and what the rest of the SDM experience would look like. One of the most impactful parts of the course was seeing my classmates’ personal action project presentations and learning more about ways they were being sustainable in their everyday lives. This made me realize how much individual choices can make a difference in educating and inspiring others regarding sustainability. I learned about various strategies that I could undertake in my daily life, such as reducing meat consumption, composting food waste, and lowering water and electricity use. I was also impressed by my classmates’ honesty; even though it is obviously beneficial to employ sustainable practices, they were willing to share that some of these lifestyle changes were difficult at first.
I was also inspired by the Social Innovation Challenge presentations, which allowed students and community members to identify and propose solutions to issues in today’s world. My classmates identified specific, relevant problems to address, and I learned that everyone has their own unique background that they can bring to sustainability challenges. For this project, I designed an app called “Sustconscious” that tracked users’ sustainable actions and used a points system to reward them. The goal of the app was to make people more aware of the impacts they have on the world and the small changes they can make everyday to make a difference, which was one of my major takeaways from SUST 401. To read more about this project, follow this link.
Another highlight of SUST 401 was the field trips we took to campus locations, which gave us direct exposure to what UNH is doing to promote sustainability. One of the most memorable visits was our trip to the aquaponics center at the greenhouses; this initiative involves growing plants in water and raising fish simultaneously. This circular process allows nutrients from the plants to be used as feed for the fish and vice versa, ultimately producing a viable cycle that allows the system to persist and lets the plants and fish mutually benefit each other. I had always thought that plants needed soil if they were to grow successfully, and never knew that they could thrive in a water solution. This cyclical project connected to the idea of zero-waste, which is another important part of sustainability. Seeing this system functioning successfully in the real world, along with the resulting lettuce plants that were produced, was incredibly eye-opening and made sustainability more than just a word on a page. I also enjoyed the field trips to the stormwater research center and the cogeneration plant, and I became curious about what else UNH is doing behind-the-scenes to be sustainable. To learn more about the aquaponics project, follow this link.
An important attitude I learned from this class was the significance of engaging with others and sharing ideas in order to advance sustainability mindsets and practices. The small class size allowed me to connect with my classmates, and I learned something from each one of them, whether that was because of the clubs they were involved in or the ways they incorporated sustainability into their daily lives. This provided a solid framework for the rest of my SDM experience because of the close relationships and collaborative work undertaken in the major. It was a positive introduction to the future core classes and the group work we would complete later. Additionally, this classroom community was reflective of sustainability challenges in general, which require collaboration from stakeholders with all types of backgrounds. Encouraging these collective efforts early on helped us understand that although making positive individual choices is important, we cannot solve complex sustainability problems on our own. Overall, SUST 401 taught me that we need to engage with others as well as the community around us if we want to make significant changes in our world.