U junior plans to develop environmental issues Web site

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

A month ago at a “green” campus conference, Ann Ollila sat and listened to complaints of some students who couldn’t find the campus environmental issues they were looking for on the University Web site.

She remembered the problems she encountered as a first-year student trying to find environmental activities and programs to get involved in.

While she sat listening, she started to develop an idea to help students, staff and faculty connect with information they are looking for.

Ollila – with help from the Sustainable Campus Initiative and Sarah Birtles, a research specialist for the Center for Sustainable Building Research – is working to create a search engine-based Web site dedicated to environmental issues.

“There is no place on the ‘U’s’ Web site where you can get clear information on policy issues,” Ollila said. “Going through the levels of bureaucracy is more trouble than it’s worth.”

Ollila hopes to build a Web site where people can click on a number of environmental topics. Under each topic, she aims to add information about classes, student groups, events and research being done on campus.

As with any project, money is an issue. To offset costs, Ollila has sent a grant proposal to the National Wildlife Federation entitled “Connecting the University of Minnesota.”

Birtles, who is working on a “green map” of the University, is in the process of applying for a grant to develop a Web site about her project. She intends to collaborate with Ollila to combine the sites.

Birtles said the Web site is a way to take stock in what is going on environmentally around campus.

“A lot of people believe in reducing our environmental impact,” Birtles said. “But, I don’t think we’ve connected well enough yet.”

Ollila, a junior in the College of Natural Resources, thinks the site could end up being an interdisciplinary tool or something classes could utilize.

“I expect the site to be a valuable source of information so when people come here they aren’t completely overwhelmed,” Ollila said. “If I had been able to have this when I first came here, I would have been much more productive in my efforts.”

Ollila said she has asked her fellow Environmental Studies Club members to collect information for the site.

Once data is gathered from student groups, departments, organizations and researchers, she estimates the site will be completed in two to three months.

Suzanne Savanick, coordinator for the Sustainable Campus Initiative, is confident that once developed, the site will connect several projects and research areas throughout the University.

“I’m hoping this project is to be a main source where everyone on campus can have access to find environmental issues,” Savanick said. “This does seem to be something that absolutely needs to be done.”

Despite monetary uncertainty, Ollila is dedicated to making the Web site happen. Ollila said she would do the project regardless of the grant.

To make it work she said she already bought a “Web Design for Dummies” book.

“I figure if Yahoo can do it, I can too,” she said.