IonE launches sustainability program

Students will create projects for interdisciplinary collaboration.

The Institute on the Environment’s inbox is brimming with applications for its new sustainability program.
More than 30 University of Minnesota students have already applied for the Sustainability Leadership Program, a program launched by the IonE this fall for undergraduates interested in looking critically at environmental issues.
More than 30 applicants will be interviewed, but fewer than 10 student leaders will be selected for the program, said Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability education coordinator for IonE.
Selected student leaders will explore sustainable management through workshops, retreats and networking opportunities. They’ll also learn to take environmental efforts into business, government and the nonprofit sector, Mercer-Taylor said.
The program will prepare students to undertake a larger project geared toward improving the sustainability of the University and the surrounding community, she said.
As the program is not tied to a specific college or major, students from all disciplines are invited to apply. Though the applicants’ past environmental experience will be a factor in the selection process, the program is not only looking for students with the most sustainable backgrounds.
“We are trying to select a class cohort to have representation from the entire University,” Mercer-Taylor said. “A lot of students can bring their passions to their work, even if it’s not inherently environmental.”
After being named a 2012 Udall Scholar, senior Eric Sannerud wanted to create an initiative that would unite students from across the University to work toward sustainable goals.
He met with Mercer-Taylor, who helped him develop a proposal for IonE. Within a month, the plan grew from a framework into the Sustainability Leadership Program.
Applications began rolling in long before the Tuesday deadline, Sannerud said.
Though the program is in its early stages, he said he could see it growing over time.
“I think we’ve kind of hit on a vein or in a niche that’s not been satisfied currently,” he said.
The program’s first workshop will take place in late October. The speakers and subject matter will be tailored to the interests of the leaders, Sannerud said.
“I’m excited to see the selected students share their story with influential people,” he said.
Phillip Kelly, a global studies senior, said he’s applying to the program to expand his knowledge and develop connections in the field of sustainability.
Though participation in the program would help him progress toward his career goals, he said he’s glad the program is open to students who might not know as much about environmental issues.
“For me, it is partially about helping develop myself as a young professional in sustainability, but it’s also a lot about trying to engage other people,” he said. “I’m really happy that they’re reaching out to students.”
With only a day to go before reaching into the application pool, Mercer-Taylor said she looks forward to the challenge of piloting a brand-new program with its very first class of student leaders.
“It’s a balancing commitment,” she said, “but it’s so exciting that so many people want to formalize their work here.”