What is a STARS Rating?
RU is a current member of The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). And the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is a comprehensive reporting tool that colleges and universities can use to assess institution-wide sustainability, and to see how they compare to other colleges and universities – both in the United States and around the world.
How long did it take to assess and rate RU?
Great question! This was a considerably lengthy process, taking nearly a year from start to finish. The data gathering began with a brand new Sustainability Studies special topics course at RU: SUST 390 – The Sustainable Campus – first offered in spring, 2015. Led by the director of the Sustainability Studies program, Dr. Michael Bryson, nineteen students were divided into four STARS Teams. The teams corresponded to the four principal STARS Reporting Categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations and Planning & Administration. The student STARS teams were tasked with developing a plan for their data gathering, reporting on individual progress halfway through the semester, and, finally, submitting their data reports.
How did RU get from the end of an introductory course to STARS Submission? Collaboration Abounds!
The STARS reporting had to take a bit of a summer break while exciting things were happening for sustainability at RU: The Sustainability Studies Program moved to the College of Arts and Sciences; SUST grad, Rebecca Quesnell (spring, 2015), was hired as the first Sustainable Operations Coordinator; and the Sustainability Studies Program hired a new Assistant Professor, Dr. Graham Pickren, who taught SUST 240: Waste, and SUST 320: Sprawl, Transport and Planning this past fall.
Once these changes were underway, the STARS Team was formed! Initially, the team consisted of SUST Professors Bryson and Pickren, Physical Resources’ Rebecca Quesnell and SUST major/Physical Resources’ STARS Intern, Maria Cancilla (also the author of this post). As the fall, 2015 semester progressed, so did the STARS Team’s research. As the team approached the Dec. 18th submission deadline, two more Physical Resources Interns: Shannon Conway (Environmental Sustainability Student Associate, Chicago Campus) and Brennan Morrow (Energy Management Student Associate) joined in to help. Both individuals provided valuable assistance to our small team.
Not only was this a collaborative effort on the part of the STARS team – there was collaboration at every level. Both the students in SUST 390 and the smaller, final STARS team reached out to fellow students, faculty and staff throughout the university. Throughout our research, each person we contacted was more than helpful when it came to meeting our deadlines – despite busy schedules, papers to grade, etc.
If this is such a lengthy process, why report at all?
For this answer, we go back to fall, 2014 – when SUST major, MaryBeth Radeck, facilitated RU’s first-ever Strategic Sustainability Planning Session. A group of SUST majors and alumni, faculty and staff convened three times with the end result being a draft of RU’s five-year Strategic Sustainability Plan (SSP). As part of our planning process, we identified the need for a comprehensive assessment of sustainability at RU. We determined that the STARS tool would best meet our needs. But with a 350-page instruction manual and over 70 credits to research, how could we accomplish this monumental task? Students could help! And thus, SUST 390, the Sustainable Campus was born. And we were on our way to our first STARS submission.
Sounds like a great opportunity! How can I get involved?
So glad you asked! It might seem like the work is done now that our STARS report has been submitted and RU has received a Bronze rating. But there is still much to do. SUST 390: The Sustainable Campus will continue to run. This spring it’s being offered as an honors course. Students will be tasked with taking the torch from the first section’s students and running with it! As the student researchers gathered their data, they identified many areas for improvement in sustainability at RU. This is where you would come in: The next section will work on the implementation of all these great ideas for improvement. While the class is already running, many projects are to abound and the developers of those projects could always use extra hands.
Additionally, RU Green-a student organization- is projected to be up and running this semester. You can always get involved with this student organization.
Looking for another way to get involved with sustainability at RU? Consider joining the Environmental Sustainability Committee or an Action Group. Each action group will be implementing goals and initiatives outlined in RU’s five-year Strategic Sustainability Plan. Whether you’re interested in Energy, Education, Waste or Planning – there is a group for you.
Please contact Rebecca Quesnell for more information on ways to get involved: firstname.lastname@example.org
As a student member of both the STARS team and the first Sustainable Campus course at RU, it has been an honor to be a part of this process. And as an institution submitting to AASHE and STARS for the first time, we can be proud of our Bronze rating, and, at the same time, we can be ready to grow and improve as a sustainable institution as we head into a new semester and new year at Roosevelt University.
You can read the full STARS report here.
~Maria Cancilla, Sustainability Studies Student, Roosevelt University