A Year in Review: The Hixon Center Reflects on 2016

By: TANJA SREBOTNJAK, Director of the Hixon Center; and LOUIS SPANIAS, Sustainability Program Manager

The Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design was officially launched in September 2015 as a college-wide center dedicated to promoting sustainability in the curriculum, research and community engagement. The Center shortly thereafter merged with the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) and assumed administrative responsibilities for its programs. As 2016, our first full calendar year in existence, comes to a close, we want to reflect upon our accomplishments over the past year. We made progress on several fronts: from two new courses and research to campus projects and a new internship program, we close this year with optimism – knowing that our collaboration with students, faculty and staff is fostering a culture of environmental sustainability on our campus that will flourish in the years to come. With that said, here is a look back on 2016.

Pedagogy

Course Offerings in Life Cycle Assessment and Spatial Statistics
The Hixon Center, through its director, Professor Srebotnjak, has developed two new courses to add to the HMC course catalog:

  • Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment (Fall Course): This course provides students with the theory and methods to assess a product or service’s environmental impacts throughout its entire life cycle (i.e., from sourcing the raw materials through manufacturing, use and final disposal).
  • Environmental and Spatial Statistics (Spring Course): This course teaches students how to model data with spatial correlation, a phenomenon frequently found in environmental and ecological contexts, but also in many other fields. The course also offers training in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), a rapidly growing area of software and applications development spurred by new spatial data collection systems such as drones and smart phones.

Emphasis in Environmental Analysis – 2016 Graduates
The EEA is a curricular program that students can take to incorporate environmental topics and themes into their major coursework. The emphasis consists of six courses beyond the core with significant environmental analysis content taken on or off campus, including at least three courses in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts and two courses in science, engineering and mathematics. This past May, we had three students graduate successfully with the Emphasis: Natasha Allen, Thendral Govindaraj, and Pichaya Lertvilai. If you would like to learn more about the EEA, please visit the EEA page on the Hixon Center website.

Research

Biennial Conference for Sustainable Design and Solutions
In October, the Hixon Center hosted its first sustainability conference on campus. Garnering over 100 attendees, the conference invited students, faculty, staff from across the Claremont Colleges and the public to engage in a day-long series of events and discussions about a variety of environmental sustainability issues. Speakers and presenters ranged from local faculty and staff to environmental professionals and academics from across the country. The conference also highlighted the research of our students and faculty here at Harvey Mudd.

Rasmussen Summer Research Fund
The Rasmussen Summer Research Fund, which was previously administered by the CES, provided summer research funding to seven projects initiated by faculty and students. The Fund was aptly guided by Professor Lelia Hawkins, and going into the 2016-17 academic year welcomed Professor Albert Dato as the new Rasmussen Fund Administrator. For more information on past projects and the new call for proposals, please visit the Rasmussen Fund page on our website.

Hixon Summer Research Fellows
This past summer, we had five students work with the Center as Hixon Fellows. Students conducted research in the sustainability field across a number of disciplines and topics, from chemical analysis of agricultural areas impacted by oil and gasoline exposure to energy reduction measures and customer interfaces in local businesses and homes. To read about our 2016 Fellows and their projects, visit the Hixon Fellowship page on our website.

Independent Research and Report Series
The Hixon Center also works to carry out independent sustainability research. A paper mapping the network of sustainability advocates, clubs and scholars at the Claremont Colleges is currently in press in the International Journal for Sustainability in Higher Education. A second co-authored paper introducing a marine ecosystem service dependency index is currently under review and more summer research results are awaiting submission for publication. We also launched a Technical Report series with a joint Hixon Center – Roberts Environmental Center study on the effects of the new Net Energy Metering tariff (NEM 2.0) for current and prospective residential solar PV customers that was adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission in early 2016.

Campus Initiatives and Projects

Waste Audit and Composting
Since March, we have been working with Facilities & Maintenance and Dining Services to divert waste from landfills and bring composting to Harvey Mudd College. In April, with the help of F&M and multiple student volunteers, we conducted a campus waste audit that concluded that more than two thirds of campus waste could be diverted from landfills, including approximately 50% compostable waste from the Hoch-Shanahan Dining Hall. We thus worked with Sodexo, our Dining Hall contractor, and our Facilities and Maintenance department to develop solutions that reduce the waste we send to landfills. Starting in January 2017, the City of Claremont will be picking up food waste from the Hoch-Shanahan to be composted! Going into next year, we will continue to find ways to implement composting and to improve waste-sorting across campus.

Energize Colleges
In July, we co-applied for the Energize Colleges program, a California utility-sponsored program, with the Roberts Environmental Center at Claremont McKenna College. Upon being accepted to the program, we have been able to provide paid internships in energy career pathways for HMC and CMC students on and off campus. The program also provides small grants for faculty seeking to incorporate experiential learning components in energy topics into their courses, and has fostered connections between our center, Claremont schools, and other regional businesses and organizations such as the LA Cleantech Incubator and the Chino Basin Water Conservation District. Internships are still available for students who are interested – please contact our Energize Colleges Fellow, Kanami Otani, if you have any questions!

Guide to Sustainable Living and Student Handbook
During the summer, we put together a guide to help students, faculty and staff learn about how to live an eco-conscious lifestyle on the Harvey Mudd campus. The guide, released in August, covers numerous aspects of campus life: from saving water and energy in the dorms to reducing waste in the classroom. The guide is available on our website and can also be found in our bi-weekly newsletters! We also drafted and incorporated a Chapter on campus sustainability into the 2016-17 Student Handbook!

Green Office Program
At the beginning of the year, we designed a program to motivate administrative and academic departments and offices to engage in more environmentally sustainable behaviors, as well as to make more eco-friendly purchases. Through the summer and the fall, we piloted the program with three units: the Engineering department, the Biology department, and the Dean of Faculty’s Office on the 4th Floor of the Sprague Center. This entailed surveying individuals regarding their office practices and purchases, and awarding them a department- or office-wide certification depending how ‘green’ they were over the past year. Each of our three pilot units certified as ‘Copper’, and we are happy to announce that starting in 2017, we will be opening up the Green Office Program to the entire campus. Our hope is that offices and departments will compete with one another for higher levels of certification, all the while fostering a culture of environmental sustainability among our faculty and staff members.

Outreach and Events

Hixon Center Newsletter
Starting in April, the Hixon Center began issuing a biweekly newsletter to students, faculty and staff across the Harvey Mudd campus, as well as to other partners at the Claremont Colleges and beyond. We use this newsletter to keep the campus community up to date on events, opportunities and resources that we provide. If you have suggestions or any material to contribute to our newsletters, please feel free to reach out to us at hixoncenter@hmc.edu!

ExxonMobil Talk with Bill Shireman
In October, we co-hosted a talk with ESW/MOSS provided by Future 500 CEO Bill Shireman. The talk was oriented around the recent ExxonMobil controversy, and the role that different parties play in the creation and perception of environmental controversies. Mr. Shireman spoke to how often these controversies are misrepresented, how certain parties are esteemed and vilified, and how more could be accomplished with a better, factual understanding of these scenarios and the facilitation of diplomatic and collaborative dialogue. You can view the talk here!

Black, Gold and Green Lecture Series
Throughout the Spring semester, the Hixon Center hosted a Black, Gold and Green lecture series. The program included a talk from Christopher Moore entitled, “Mixing a Scientific/Political Cocktail,” which covered how scientific issues are often politicized, which prevents important discussions and hinders advancement on a variety of environmental issues. We intend on continuing the lecture series in Spring 2017, so stay tuned for more information!

– – – – –

We look forward to 2017, and are excited to continue forwarding our mission on the Harvey Mudd campus. If you would like to learn more about the Hixon Center, or are interested in getting involved, you can reach us by:

  • Visiting our website: hmc.edu/hcsed;
  • Sending us an e-mail at hixoncenter@hmc.edu;
  • Calling us at (909) 607-7623; or
  • Stopping by the center in Parsons 1255!

Until then, we wish you all a very happy holiday season – and send our best wishes to students going into Finals!