Huston-Tilloston University is combining collaborative efforts in order to empower and embrace environmental equality in the East Austin community. In addition to educational programs and research opportunities, the university implemented a series of initiatives around sustainable education. The student movement Green is the New Black links the university to environmental groups and schools through Austin. Building Green Justice is an environmental awareness forum connecting the university with organizations in the area. The Dumpster Project spreads the knowledge about environmental issues and provides unique learning opportunities to the local community.
Huston-Tillotson University (HT) is an emerging leader among HBCUs in the area of sustainability and educational preparedness. The school has implemented a series of initiatives centered on environmental education, including the introduction of an Environmental Studies (ES) program, sustainable campus projects in transportation (comprehensive bike program) and renewable energy (solar charging station, energy management) managed by a newly hired sustainability coordinator, and an award-winning student movement called Green is the New Black. This student group is involved in many education and outreach initiatives that are linking HT’s sustainability efforts to environmental groups and schools throughout Austin.
Many of the school’s initiatives are also seeking to link academic and research opportunities to improving the quality of STEM education on campus. In addition to the new ES program, the university has also received several grants that strengthen this goal. Huston-Tillotson University partnered with the University of Texas – Austin on an Office of Naval Research-funded program that provides undergraduates with research experiences. They are a sub-grant awardee with Texas State University on a STEM education grant that will provide HT with both training and equipment to bolster their STEM programs.
Another key initiative on campus, Building Green Justice, is an environmental justice forum connecting the university with organizations in the area that have environmental awareness and activism missions. Partnering with these organizations, HT can demonstrate to students the multitude of ways that one can translate interest and passion for environmental issues into a wide variety of careers and connect students to internship and job opportunities.
One of Huston-Tillotson’s key campus initiatives, the Dumpster Project (dumpsterproject.org) is an innovative program to turn a dumpster into a sustainable home. More broadly, the dumpster is a way to engage and educate about sustainability and environmental awareness. The university especially seeks to increase environmental awareness and education among underserved groups. Historically, low-income and minority groups have had less input into environmental decision making and thus bear higher burdens – health and economic – of environmental damage. The Dumpster Project seeks to generate knowledge about how to engage both the student populations and broader Austin by maximizing the element of surprise – a dumpster converted to a home is an object that immediately warrants a second, then maybe third or fourth look to be fully recognized. This “dumpster double-take” is a core element of the school’s project. Huston-Tilltson has found great success engaging learners of all ages through the familiar and yet novel character of the project.
Huston-Tillotson also strives to demystify the process of science by providing learners with engaging experiences and active inquiry opportunities that invite discovery, promote self-efficacy of learners, and demystify the process of science for non-scientists. This goal, in combination with the larger mission to increase public interest and knowledge of environmental issues, particularly those relevant to environmental health and justice, are engaging and preparing both their campus and the surrounding community for a world experiencing the rapidly increasing effects from climate change.
In addition to the academic and outreach avenues, Huston-Tillotson is seeking to transform the university into a leading green HBCU operationally. To achieve this, the university has undertaken a number of projects in key conservation areas. Over the last year, they have undertaken a systematic examination of the university’s sustainability picture by examining all aspects of operations. Huston-Tillotson began with detailed energy analysis performed last summer by an Environmental Defense Fund Fellow. This work identified the possibility of rooftop solar installations on campus, and since that time they have been pursuing this 220kW solar energy project. Thanks to favorable financing conditions available to non-profit organizations and the support of HT’s upper administration and Board, HT is currently in the final stages of contract negotiation to install a large-scale solar PV rooftop installation that would produce approximately 10% of the campus’s power and make HT on the leading private HBCU’s in terms of renewable power generated per student. Through the same EDF program and partnership, Huston-Tillotson will undertake a similar analysis of campus water conservation opportunities this summer.
Another key partnership with the City of Austin Active Transportation Department was initially envisioned as a way to increase bicycle ridership on campus; however, with significant interest from the general Transportation Department, this partnership is expanding to encompass all forms of transportation in and around campus. The university is seeking to affect transportation offerings in its area that will impact GHG emission both on and off campus with analysis of public transportation needs and options.