Student Projects

Students often do the research that leads to positive sustainability changes on campus. Some classes have final projects that focus on such research.

Many of the projects on this page are from the “Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus” course. Others are campus-sustainability summer research, Eco Advisor projects, or projects from other courses. Another set of resources are the student papers from the CES website, which you can find at http://ces.williams.edu/publications/student-papers/class-papers/

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of this liberal arts institution, projects/papers in many classes can be sustainability-related.

Have a project you worked on that you’d like to add to this website, email us.

Reassessing the Campus Approach to Zero Waste
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Have you ever considered what happens to your trash after you throw it away on campus? Or how the supplies and materials you use came to be purchased? These seemingly unrelated questions shaped the trajectory of our work as Zero Waste Interns for the Zilkha Center. We partnered with the environmental consulting firm Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) to complete their ATLAS Assessment, a holistic review of Williams’ waste practices. This assessment helped illuminate waste operations from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives. We conducted interviews with departments across campus in order to gather information that will enable Williams to develop a strategic plan to get to zero waste. Zero waste is traditionally defined as a 90% diversion rate, which is the amount of waste thrown in the compost or recycling as a percentage of the total waste.

This assessment focuses on two scopes of waste – that which the college has direct control over and that which the college purchases but does not have control over which bin it is disposed of in. The ATLAS Assessment also uses three foundational understandings to guide the planning process. The first is that the diversion metric does not accurately measure zero waste. A campus could reduce its overall consumption and waste while still seeing the diversion rate increase. Secondly, standardization is the key for successful implementation of zero waste initiatives and programs. Infrastructural changes must precede behavioral change. Lastly, campus-wide zero waste may require a reshuffling of program management (e.g. compost would have to be managed by Facilities instead of Dining if it were to become campus-wide).

Along with these universal suggestions for waste reduction, we also found that Williams more specifically must implement policy changes in order to address these challenges. These policy changes need to occur at an institutional level and be backed up with funding. We recommend the creation of a Zero Waste Task Force to work with the Zero Waste Interns and Zilkha Center to manage the implementation of these new programs. The push for policy is so critical because we need to actually build systems that allow Williams to become more waste efficient. The onus is not on the individual to move our campus towards our sustainability goals, but to mandate and commit to them on an institutional level. Of course, the substance of these policies matter. They should address areas like: creating and mandating usage of a surplus property management system, a waste efficient procurement policy, the implementation of a campus-wide compost program, expanding education around waste and sustainability, implementing a standardized bin system across campus, and more.

Throughout the Stage 1 process, we have been inspired by all of the programs and initiatives that faculty and staff have started on a departmental or individual level. These initiatives have included a glove recycling program in the Science Department, composting in Goodrich, and fabric reuse in the Theater Department, to name a few. However, we need to push the college further by committing to making concrete change on an institutional level. This will come with the Sustainability Strategic Plan put forth earlier this year as well as the second stage of the ATLAS process, which brings together stakeholders for strategic-visioning. The Zero Waste Task Force along with Zero Waste Interns will work to manage the changes that will subsequently be implemented. This process will also be assisted by other, smaller projects we worked on throughout the year, such as working to create a first-year education program focused on zero waste and the putting together of a composting-case study that looked at campus-wide compost systems at peer institutions.

-Lauren Lynch ’23 & Coco Rhum ’23, Zero Waste Interns Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

To learn more about Atlas, visit the Williams Zero Waste Atlas Assessment page.
Click here to read Coco and Lauren’s piece in The Record about COVID-19 and waste.


The New Lehman: Observing the Sustainable Design Process
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October 2018 Update to Shane Beard’s blogpost below: the Lehman project has been put on hold.

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Lehman Hall is one of the first dormitories at Williams to be renovated under new building standards. These new standards are in the pilot phase, and may manifest in one of two ways; LEED version 4, or a combination that incorporates elements of the Living Building Challenge and Passive House certifications. No matter which standard is chosen during the design process, the goal is to challenge EUI targets [EUI stands for energy use intensity, or a building’s energy use as a function of its size or characteristics], reduce embodied carbon, and to pilot a new standard for Williams buildings that prioritizes sustainability and accessibility. In the month of July, a handful of the Zilkha interns (Shane Beard ‘20, Jamal Meneide ‘19, David Julio Tavarez ‘19, and Evan Chester ‘21) joined meetings about the preliminary plans for Lehman, set to begin construction in September 2019, and talked about the commitments and opportunities for the Lehman project with its designers.

 

The first meeting, which took place on July 19th, focused on the “program” for the new and improved Lehman Hall. Of the many goals that the college is targeting – maintaining the bed count and building footprint, improving circulation, using space efficiently – creating a living space that is sustainable and attractive was a prominent stance of the designers. The new Lehman Hall will refresh and preserve its exterior look, while also altering the inside almost entirely to improve quality of life and energy efficiency. For example, it’s been proposed that Lehman will keep its two prominent front doors, but only the one on the east side of the building will actually function as an entrance that can be opened from the outside. The west door will be sealed, which will help keep the building insulated and prioritize one entrance into the space, with hopes that this change will strengthen the communal vibe of the dorm. In terms of accessibility, an elevator would be just inside the main entrance, and all bathrooms would have handicap accessible showers and toilets.

 

In terms of building materials, the renovated Lehman Hall would look to the LEED Materials section and the Materials Petal of the Living Building Challenge as a base. This includes replacing the brick and terra cotta of the original’s Interior walls with brick and wood panel studs with insulation. This increases the R-value (resistance to heat flow through a given material) of insulation, and makes the building airtight, thus reducing the energy lost by heat entering/escaping the building. Adding more beds would also go a long way to reducing the energy footprint of the building, although the final bed count is dependent on how new plumbing fixtures work into the final floor plan.

 

 

Internally, the number of beds is likely to be roughly the same, with 1 or 2 beds likely being added to the total. Instead of mostly being singles, many rooms will become doubles. This move will alter the interior space greatly, which may be a point of contention- Lehman’s singles have always been one of its primary draws. That being said, doubles are far more sustainable. From a student run study of on-campus energy reduction policies from 2016: “Single rooms are inherently more energy intensive than rooms shared with multiple students. Sharing a room allows the college to provide heating and lighting for two students simultaneously in a shared space, as opposed to providing the same services in two separate spaces.” Doubles reduce energy use and cut emissions, so the board of trustees is asking the college and designers that work with the College’s Planning Design & Construction team to consider doubles.

 

Seemingly to make up for this, the designers highlighted their plans for larger, beautiful common space in the building. This manifests in two adjacent locations: the North Lawn behind Lehman, and a new common space in the middle of the dorm. This proposed space would be double height, and would take up the first two floors. It would be a fully furnished common room, with its north side having large windows that look out onto the North Lawn. To further emphasize the North Lawn, the improved basement will have more natural light and an exit to a terrace on the lawn.

 

The second meeting students were involved in was all about making Lehman a more equitable space, and that’s when I began to ponder how Lehman will be perceived post renovation by students and the wider community. The idea behind the Equity petal of the LBC, which the renovated dorm is aiming for, is to balance “people, building, and community.” Georgia Tech’s LBC compliant Kendeda Building and it’s Equity Working Group, which incorporated faculty, students, and the neighboring community into the discussion for the new building, was held up as a successful model of an equitable building process. The group prioritizes local hiring, a welcoming building culture, building safe pathways to neighboring communities, and formally engaging hourly staff in student development and education work. These are all admirable goals, but two factors make the comparison unfit for the Lehman renovation.

 

Unlike the Kendeda building, or our own Environmental Center, Lehman is a dormitory, and its day to day function entails some sense of privacy, since students will live, sleep, bathe, and study in that space. Opening avenues for all community members to feel welcome on campus, and boosting engagement for staff on campus needs to happen, but perhaps not through this building. Second, the nature of Williams campus makes Lehman’s location on campus very distinct from neighboring communities. North Adams and Pittsfield aren’t in walking distance, and other dorms (Mission, Dodd Circle) are closer to central community spaces in Williamstown, like Williamstown Elementary. To that end, focusing on building equity on campus as a whole, and in Lehman’s relationship to the rest of campus, is more plausible, and steps to do so can begin before renovations even begin.

 

Lehman’s location is a considerable factor to consider when it comes to its relationship to the rest of campus. Unlike most other dorms on campus, Lehman isn’t a part of a quad or neighboring any other dorms. It’s technically a part of the Dodd neighborhood according to the Neighborhood Leadership team, but the building itself is directly behind Hollander, and is uphill from the set of dorms it’s ostensibly connected to. This placement makes Lehman uniquely isolated and self contained, despite its presence in the center of campus. As the design process proceeds, envisioning Lehman as a unique space on campus would only work to its benefit. Incorporating biophilic design into an open performance space on the North Lawn, planting a new community garden, or investigating how the renovated dorm could function as a pilot for affinity housing would all be steps towards making Lehman’s location a strength for the community as a whole. After all, making a Lehman that is as sustainable, accessible, and inclusive as possible is another step towards a better Williams, and an ongoing, open conversation is key to that.

 

By Shane Beard ‘20, Zilkha Center Summer Communications Intern

Watch this space for more on the Lehman design project as it develops. If you have thoughts you would like to share about the built environment at Williams or Lehman Hall in particular, email us so we can bring it with us to the conversation.


Jamal Meneide ’19 talks Videography and Community Commitment
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Jamal (center) gets ready to chow down

Jamal Meneide ’19, the Zilkha Center’s Videographer in residence, is a firm believer in the power of the image. When asked to describe why he enjoys his work, Jamal wrote “images can communicate a mood, an emotion – a story – instantly, in a way that doesn’t take a college degree or studying to understand. They’re a level playing field for anyone to access. If each word in these sentences were a picture, I would have told you 46 stories. I think that’s truly incredible.”

Jamal co-founded Guys Being Dudes in 2015

To anyone who knows Jamal, his passion for video isn’t surprising. As the co-creator of the comedy sketch series Guys Being Dudes, as well as the creator of the vlog series Hot Take, Jamal’s talent for composition and natural comic timing has been refined during his time at Williams. Those skills were evident early Wednesday afternoon, as Jamal tinkered with the exposure on his camera in a Sawyer study room. Jamal had asked me to costar in a skit, and together we talked blocking the scene, setting up establishing shots, and making sure that one conspicuous used plate would be in the frame. Throughout the preliminary stages, it was clear that Jamal wanted to capture a real experience and heighten it with an incisive surrealism, a strand of shared DNA with the Guys Being Dudes series.

Jamal’s delicious contribution to the intern’s first weekly lunch

For his work with the Zilkha Center this summer, Jamal wants to use video to reinforce the commitments we make as members of the Williams community. “My video projects for the Zilkha Center this summer are trying to tell you a story about the commitments we’ve decided to make, why they’re important to us, and why they might be important to [other students] as well.” The video we shot on Wednesday is all about Dining Service’s Bring it Back campaign, which encourages students to return dishes and silverware taken from the dining halls. The school loses nearly $30,000 annually replacing all the missing dishes, and Jamal’s sketch takes that absurdity and runs with it. The resulting video is both an absurd satire of apathetic college students and an honest look at the little things one can do to help their community. Williams is committed to being 35% below its 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 2020, but that big picture goal for a more sustainable Williams can often seem vague in our day to day lives. Removing dishes inconveniences dining staff. Smaller choices like composting food waste and returning dishes seem like inconsequential changes in behavior, but they’re just as important as new building standards when it comes to making the campus more sustainable.

 

When asked what he hopes to accomplish by the end of the summer, Jamal is hopeful that anyone who watched his content will gain something. “My hope is that I can make a series of videos that will affect any audience, from the person who already cares a lot about sustainability, to the person who wants to know more but doesn’t know where to start – to even the person who might not care about any of this stuff in the first place!”

Jamal and the interns touring Caretaker Farm

Jamal’s work for the Zilkha Center will be linked here on the Sustainability site, as well as on the Zilkha Center’s social media pages:

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

Check out Guys Being Dudes, as well as Hot Take on Youtube.

 


Meet the Summer Interns!
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Every summer, the Zilkha Center hires students to work as summer interns. For 10 weeks, the interns work in the garden, cook sustainable meals, and work on their own projects for the Zilkha Center. This summer, eight interns have joined us, and we’ll have regular updates on their work throughout the summer. Be sure to keep your eyes on the blog, as well as our social media presence, all summer long!


Art at the Envi Center: wooden planets Now on Display
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Eva Henderson ’19 poses with her sculptures
Photo taken by Sarah Ritzmann

When you proceed down the outdoor steps of the Class of ’66 Environmental Center, four driftwood-and-glass sculptures come into view. These pieces are part of wooden planets, Eva Henderson ’19’s first installation as the Zilkha Center’s Artist-in-Residence. On Friday, fellow Zilkha Center interns and friends gathered at the Envi Center’s patio to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.

Each piece consists of grayed driftwood that is roughly two feet long, whose graceful curves seem to emerge from the grassy steps. Glass and porcelain shards in a variety of shapes and colors appear to be standing upright on their edges, but are in fact carefully glued. Some form towers several pieces high, creating the illusion of precarious balance. The sculptures are made from found objects, with every piece of wood and glass collected by Eva herself.

“I’ve been using driftwood in conjunction with found objects for a while now, and the inspiration for that is one specific piece of driftwood on the shore of the Hoosic River,” said Eva, explaining her inspiration for the works. “Over the course of probably many years- I don’t know when it started- people have collected pieces of glass and any man-made objects that wash up on the bank, and they pile them over this big log. It’s a really strange and wonderful place,” she said.

A close-up view of two of the four pieces on display. Photo Taken by Sarah Ritzmann

Eva created these works with the Envi Center’s steps in mind; the knobbly texture of the wood matches that of the steps, and the mix of organic and manmade materials echoes that of the Envi Center itself. “The patio steps are beautiful, yet often go unused. I hope that my installation encourages other students to take advantage of this space,” said Eva. Taking a break from observing the sculptures to pick some mint leaves and the occasional blueberry is encouraged.

According to Eva, wooden planets will be on view “until somebody asks me to remove them.” Be sure to visit them soon. More of her work can be viewed at evahenderson.net.

 

 

 

 

Sarah Ritzmann ’17 is a sustainable writing intern for the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.