About 225 new Buena Vista University first-year students accomplished a lot in six hours during the weekend before the start of fall classes.
The students participated in the kickoff to the third annual University Seminar, a semester-long program required of all first-year students to help them with the transition to college.
A weekend “Global Footprint” project serves to launch the University Seminar by focusing on developing projects that will have a positive impact on the environment on the BVU campus. The purpose is to set the academic tone for students’ college experience and to help them bond with each other and with faculty, says Dr. Peter Steinfeld, associate dean of the faculty who coordinated the development and implementation of the University Seminar concept.
“There was a buzz on campus during Welcome Week,” says Steinfeld. “The Footprint project gave new incoming students a chance to become academically and socially engaged immediately upon their arrival on campus. New students were asked to probe complex environmental problems, and come up with practical, creative solutions. Our new students rose to the challenge, and proposed some remarkable project ideas! It was a great start to the academic year!”
This year, the Seminar expanded on the Global Footprint theme by seeking ideas from Storm Lake city officials in collaboration with BVU staff and the student orientation team. These projects went beyond the BVU campus to benefit the entire community.
The students were divided into 15 sections, or teams, that also included BVU faculty and staff members and upperclassmen from the orientation team who served as peer mentors.
For the Global Footprint exercise, the students had only six hours to develop their projects and present them to a panel of judges composed of BVU’s vice presidents and representatives of the city administration. The top projects selected by that panel were then judged by BVU President Fred Moore and Storm Lake City Manager Jim Patrick. The top three selections earned awards of $300, $200 and $100 which can be invested back into those projects.
In developing their projects, the students gained experience with college-level library research and making dynamic presentations.
Most of the groups got plans for their projects through the design stage, but any follow-up work towards identification of funding resources and implementation will need to be done by team members on their own time in collaboration with local volunteer organizations, and city officials, says Steinfeld.
“We were really impressed with some of the creative concepts that the students came up with, and the energy behind their ideas,” says Patrick. “Certainly the projects need some more fleshing out and tweaking, but for six hours of effort they did some remarkable work.”
“This is also a great time for us to talk about the projects that would fall under city jurisdiction because the city council is starting budget discussions and can consider projects for possible implementation,” adds Patrick. The projects that also involve BVU participation would require further joint discussion.
The top three winning student projects were:
First place — a city orchard.
The team, led by Dr. Robert Blodgett, professor of psychology, and Mark Kirkholm, director of campus security, proposes a four-acre orchard on city property south of town near the sewage treatment lagoons. The orchard would have pears, apples, peaches and apricots and a tree nursery could be added to replace city trees damaged by storms and disease. The team also proposes a community garden at the site and partnerships with various Storm Lake non-profits to help with fruit distribution.
“The students looked at what could have been a mundane project and took it to a higher level,” says Blodgett, who notes that they estimated the initial cost of establishing the orchard would be nearly $15,900.
“We knew we had to put a creative spin on an ordinary project if we wanted to win,” says Meghan Harmening, a finance and Spanish double major from Marshall, Minn. “We just kept adding to the project and eventually it was so creative that no one else would have come up with it because it would not have been possible without ideas from each group member.
“We still need to get a core group of people together to continue this project into real time,” Meghan says, adding that it is the type of project that will take work by students, community volunteer organizations and the city government.
Izaak Plunkett, a music production and communications double major from Spirit Lake, says “We selected this project because we thought it would have the most long term benefit to the community and we wanted to get as much of the community working together as possible.”
“I learned a lot about how much planning and manpower a project like this would take,” adds Izaak. “It also served as a reminder that college is a time to step up my performance and my work ethic to the next level.”
Second place — a rain garden to control pollutants from parking lots.
The team, led by Dr. Matt Hanson, assistant professor of human performance, and Ken Meissner, university chaplain, proposes a rain garden behind the Lamberti Recreation Center. The garden would filter runoff from the BVU parking lots to reduce pollutants that enter the lake. The team’s research looked at the variety of pollutants in runoff from parking lots and streets that go into storm sewers and are harmful to the lake. The rain garden would be a model for creating others at strategic locations on campus and around the city.
“Our group worked really well researching the purpose and functionality of rain gardens,” says
Hanson. “We took a video of water going directly from the parking lot to the lake where we propose putting the garden. The location should be very effective at filtering the rain water prior to it entering the lake.” The group estimates it will cost approximately $500 to establish the rain garden, which would be maintained by student volunteers. Plans are to apply the group’s $200 award toward the cost of the project.
Cameron Mennenoh, an athletic training major from Audubon, says “We picked the rain garden project because we wanted to do something that would be good for the environment and was also creative and artistic.”
“I learned that we could accomplish a lot of things if everyone in the group participates and we can get good ideas if everyone speaks up and isn’t shy, which was very hard for us in the beginning,” adds Cameron.
Third place — “Love Clean Green Storm Lake” recycling campaign.
The team, led by Dr. Matt Packer, assistant professor of English, and Diane Kenny, academic policy coordinator, proposed to further educate the public about recycling and to make it easier for everyone to recycle. The team’s plans include education, engagement and implementation. One suggestion is to provide color-coded recycling bins around the campus and the city.
“After talking with city officials, the students felt this project would be a key part of our local sustainability efforts,” says Packer. “This would be a continuing, longer-term effort to change the way we talk about trash and resources.”
Rudy Pineda, a business management/entrepreneurship major from Storm Lake, says he would like to see the city, local schools, BVU’s Students Concerned About Tomorrow’s Environment (SCATE) and the BVU Sustainability Task Force involved in implementation.
Rudy says in high school he was in a club that worked on environmental projects, but could get none implemented. “Now that I am in college, I can see how with the right contacts and funding these types of projects can be started as a community project, not just a school project,” he says.
“Collectively, I believe that we have learned that there is a lot more involved in trying to create a better world and that it will takea lot of work,” says Kimberly Niehaus, an education major from Correctionville. “On the other hand, we have learned that one small thing can help in a big way.”
Some of the projects researched by other student groups included: an “adopt-a-beach” and recycling program in city parks; harvesting of rain water from buildings; an organic community garden; “Operation City Beautiful” to educate the public about the city property code; and creation of “environmentorships” that partner BVU students with high school students who have similar interests in environmental projects.