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Green grants a ticket to sustainability


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The winners of the 2013 Union College Presidential Green Grants. Kyle Lanzit '14 (left) receives a Presidential Green Grant for his proposal to make Union more bike-friendly.Presidential Green GrantProfessor Laura MacManus-Spencer (left) speaks with Maggie Hoffman '14/
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Each Thursday night, Alpha Delta Phi hosts a formal dinner at Fero House for the brothers and their guests, at which they go through up to 300 disposable plastic cups.

Thanks to a Presidential Green Grant, the cups will soon be trashed. In their place, the fraternity will be sipping from 90 “Klean Kanteens,” stainless steel reusable cups that are more sustainable and eco-friendly.

That idea, proposed by fraternity member Forrister Ross ’14, was one of 20 winning projects announced at the annual grants ceremony in Feigenbaum Hall Monday.

Launched six years ago to support environmentally sustainable projects at Union, the grants are open to faculty, staff and students. This year was the largest, with winners sharing more than $31,000 in grants ranging from $715 to $2,000. They include 11 campus-wide projects and nine geared toward research.

The grants are administered by the College’s U Sustain Committee, made up of about 50 environmentally and socially concerned students, faculty and staff who steward the College’s sustainability initiatives.

The projects touch nearly all parts of the campus, ranging from a dorm room bulb swap program and a bicycle repair center to an eMonitor in the Culinary Theme House that measures electrical usage. On the research side, projects include the application of nanomaterials to remove water pollutants and enhancing the solar thermal collector system used by Facilities.

“We continue to do great work in terms of how we make our college operations more sustainable,” said Jeffrey Corbin, professor of biology and faculty co-chair of U Sustain, who, along with Sustainability Coordinator Meghan Haley-Quigley ’11, presented the winners with certificates as Acting President Therese McCarty looked on.  “But we also do research to make sure that globally, the environment is a cleaner one.

“These grants let us harness the creativity we have in our own community and put that toward actions that otherwise might not be able to take place,” Corbin said.

Haley-Quigley said it was especially gratifying to fund a diverse mix of proposals.

“We received a proposal from a Greek organization for the first time, we have a first-year-student and two non-academic departments,” she said. “This shows that we are reaching a growing number of our campus community members about sustainability at Union.”


The 2013-14 Green Grant winners:

Maureen Kopach, reserve desk supervisor and government documents assistant, Schaffer Library
Project: The Octopus’s Garden Organic Gardening Project: A New Season of Growth
Amount: $715
Summary:  This project would sustain a seventh year of organic vegetable cultivation in Union College’s Octopus’s Garden. The streamlined planting, irrigation, maintenance, and harvest plan for the 2014 growing season is designed to both maximize and encourage student participation and donation of summer and fall crops to Dining Services would continue a long-standing partnership that provides fresh, organic produce to the Union community.

Laura McManus Spencer, professor of chemistry
Project: Showcasing sustainability while promoting creative design in a dynamic display in the Peter Irving Wold Center
Amount: $2,000
Summary:  In this project, we will support the creative design talents of students, faculty and staff at Union College while continually updating two dynamic displays in the Wold Center that highlight sustainability at Union and in the community. To date, the Wold display cases have been routinely updated by members of U Sustain. Moving forward, we would like to offer the opportunity to members of the broader campus community to use their creative design talents to create sustainability displays in these spaces. We plan to hold a campus-wide design competition as a way to solicit fresh material for the displays.

Lilia Tiemann, coordinator of campus events, Admissions
Project:  Recycling Bins for On-Campus Events
Amount: $1,500
Summary: Admissions hosts 13 events per year. As a result of these events, approximately 3,000 visitors visit Union annually. Over the past couple years; the Admissions Department has become increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability. Visiting students continue to view it as a crucial necessity. At all our programs we go to great lengths to ensure recycling and composting has a presence on campus. Our efforts are well received and applauded by visiting families. Sustainability is a not only an Admissions effort, but a campus wide effort. We feel the need to set precedence for all other departments on this vital cause.  We currently borrow bins from Facilities, but we feel that moving forward we should have uniform bins (trash & recycling) and signage and that this will enhance the program overall. By purchasing professionally looking bins and signs, it shows are commitment to recycling and composting. The billboard signs attach to the bins and would yield a professional and uniform look that will clearly outline what can and cannot be disposed of in each bin. The goal is for all departments on campus to use these bins and signs at their events thus prompting more recycling/composting campus wide.

Forrister Ross ‘14
Project:  Reusable cups at Alpha Delta Phi
Amount: $1,100
Summary:  I propose a Presidential Green Grant to provide the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity house with reusable “Klean Kanteens” to reduce the need for disposable plastic cups. This would significantly reduce our organization’s plastic waste output and make our events more sustainable and eco-friendly.

Andrew Parnes ‘17
Project: Bicycle Repair Center
Amount:  $1,000
Summary: This project would set up a bicycle repair shop on campus. It will be used to repair the bikes of the campus community as well as being a hub for community outreach. It will also be used as a place to teach other students and faculty about fixing their bikes. Its main purpose is to increase the number of bikes ridden on campus and in the Schenectady area, leading to fewer cars driven.

Andrea Schwartz ’14 in collaboration with Doug Klein, professor of economics and chair of ESPE
Project:  Improving the Educational Value of the Wold Interactive Kiosk
Amount: $2,000
Summary:  Funding is sought to hire consultants from TBS, designers of the Wold interactive kiosk, to improve the information on the data screens, and to increase the kiosk’s capability to archive sensor data from the building’s energy systems. Improving the way information and data is displayed on the screens will improve informal education aimed at the casual user. Improved data archiving will provide more and better data to be used in teaching and research on energy and sustainability.

John Lombardi ’14 in collaboration with: Marjorie Chee, John Lombardi and Zacarie Hertel
Project:  The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Human Powered Vehicle Competition
Amount: $900
Summary:  The Union College Human Powered Vehicle team is requesting funding for our ongoing research and design of a high-efficiency vehicle that can travel at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour under normal rider effort. Three team members have taken the project on as a senior project, and there are multiple other Junior, Sophomore, and First Year students that are part of the team. The funding would be directly responsible for purchasing the components of the vehicle, in addition to advancing research in the area of high-efficiency and high-speed human powered vehicles at Union College.

Kaitlyn Suarez ‘15
Project:  Sustainable Practices in the Home
Amount: $2,000
Summary: I propose to install an eMonitor in the Culinary Theme House to monitor electrical usage, and implement techniques that will reduce the carbon footprint of the home. The eMonitor records the electrical use in each room of the home, and this information is sent wirelessly to a supporting program that provides minute-by-minute energy use in the form of graphs and statistics. The installation of eMonitors has been shown to reduce energy use by 30%. Energy saving techniques will include the use of powerstrips, and turning off unnecessary lights and electronics. The goal is to create green habits that will continue with students past college graduation, and promote sustainable citizens.

Marissa Peck ’14 in collaboration with Jim McLaughlin, athletic director
Project: Water Refill Station for Alumni Gym
Amount: $2,000
Summary:  I propose a Presidential Green Grant to provide Alumni Gym with a water refill station to serve the hydration needs of students and faculty and will also reduce the amount of plastic water bottles in the landfills. The Athletic Department has agreed to purchase a second refill station in the financial year of 2014-2015 and install it in another facility on campus where a station is needed.

Michael Morris '14

Project:  Investigation of binding interactions of perfluoroalkyl acids with human serum albumin using an improved approach to equilibrium dialysis
Amount: $1,800
Summary: Although perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are classified as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic contaminants, they are still used to produce various consumer products. To understand the bioaccumulation and pharmacokinetics of these chemicals, an investigation of PFAA-protein interactions is required. The aim of this study is to improve the equilibrium dialysis method in order to quantitatively and qualitatively characterize protein-PFAA binding interactions while using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for quantitation. The results from this project will help assess the relative environmental and biological hazards of PFAAs as well as inform agencies that make decisions regarding the use of these chemicals in consumer products.

Tae Ra Kim ‘14
Project: 3D Flowerlike Ceria Micro/Nanocomposite Structure and Laponite/Ceria Membranes for Water Treatment
Amount:  $1,090
Summary: One of the serious environmental problems today is water pollution caused by toxic substances like arsenic, chromium, and carbon monoxide. These substances are all potential carcinogens.1 The development of nanoscience and nanotechnology can facilitate the process of water purification. A variety of designs and applications of nanomaterials have been utilized to filter water contaminants. However, the application of nanomaterials in water treatment is expensive and not widely available. In fact, the ultimate goal of this research is to develop effective nanomaterials in manageable and economical way to remove water pollutants and reuse for many purposes.
Ceria (cerium oxide) has been receiving great attention for the removal of various       
water contaminants owing to its increased oxygen storage capacity2 as well as oxygen ion conductivity.3 The characteristic of high oxygen storage capacity enables ceria to remove contaminants as a catalyst.

Doug Klein, professor of economics in collaboration with: A.J. Place, assistant director of Residential Life
Project: Dorm Room Bulb Swap Program
Amount: $1,580
Summary:  A recent survey of 99 Union College dorm rooms conducted in Winter of 2013 showed that approximately two-thirds of the light bulbs in lamps brought to campus by students used incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs use nearly four times the electricity of compact fluorescents (CFL). Offering a free bulb swap and replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs would pay for itself in less than one academic year.

Kyle Lanzit ‘13
Project:  Promotion and Facilitation of a Bicycle-Friendly Union College
Amount: $2,000
Summary: This project will support a significant contingent of bicyclists on campus and in the local community and will do so in two ways. First, a Dero fix-it station will be installed in front of the Wold Center and will allow more advanced riders to perform maintenance on their bicycles. Secondly, this green grant will fund the purchase of security and safety equipment for training and equipping bicyclists. While two u-locks and two helmets will be kept in the bike repair shop (Kenney Community Center basement) for classes, an additional ten locks and ten helmets will be available on loan at the Schaffer Library.

Kiera Tormey ‘ 14
Project:  Octopus’s Garden’s Rainwater System
Amount: $1,500
Summary:  The shed at Octopus’s Garden currently has a solar system containing a 250 watt solar panel that supplies power to several compact florescent lights and an outlet. The shed also has two rain barrels that collect discharge from the roof. The goal of this project is to design a pump system that ties into power produced by the solar panel to supply water to the sprinklers in the garden. This would decrease the dependency on city water which is currently feeding the sprinklers in the garden.

Daniel Emmanuel ‘14
Project:  Enhancement of a Solar Thermal Collector System
Amount:  $1,264
Summary: This project will be focused on the enhancement of the previously constructed solar thermal system located in the Facilities Services Physical Plant building. These enhancements will include automated temperature controls, improved insulation, and tilt angle adjustments for the installed reflectors. The output of this system is expected to be used in future projects that will reduce Union College’s carbon footprint, so having these enhancements will help to further reduce it.

Tim Cameron ‘14
Project:  Application of a High Performance – Optically enhanced Solar Thermal Collector System
Amount: $1,504
Summary: This project will use the existing solar thermal collector system located in the Faculties Building and provide an application for the 80 MJ of thermal energy that it produces. This system does not currently serve any load, so two applications will be designed and constructed which will lead to the reduction of natural gas as well as the reduction of the facilities heating consumption. This will be done by pumping the hot water from the existing storage tanks, utilizing the thermal energy. Both applications will lead to a reduction in Union College’s Carbon footprint.

Rahde Franke, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations
Project: College Relations Composting
Amount: $2,000
Summary:  Union’s Office of Alumni Relations hosts several major events every year and we would like to decrease the waste produced by composting at each of these events. Our office hosts the following on-campus events: a First Year Parents’ Reception during move-in day, Homecoming and Family Weekend, ReUnion and Garnet Gala. Between all of these events, we host thousands of alumni, families and friends of the college. In the past, our large events have produced a lot of waste. We would like to mitigate that waste, so we are applying for a Green Grant to subsidize our composting efforts.

Natasha Jhala ‘14
Project: Study of Toxic Effects of Mercury on Songbird Blood as a Bioindicator of Potential Hazards to Human Health
Amount: $1,575
Summary: My research project will analyze the blood samples of songbirds in the Albany Pine Bush area for elevated blood mercury levels due to contamination of water and food sources from environmental mercury. Using other published studies, we see how mercury can affect the neurological and developmental processes in birds, which can be used as a model for humans. The results of the study will help determine how environmental mercury is a potential public health risk.

Andrew Huisman, professor of chemistry
Project: The Union College electrodynamic balance: an experimental apparatus for studies of the physical and atmospheric chemistry of single levitated particles.
Amount: $2,000
Summary: Atmospheric aerosols contribute heavily to the uncertainty in predictions of climate change and have been shown to be deleterious to human health. Among aerosols, organic aerosols are particularly poorly understood. An electrodynamic balance is used to trap and hold micrometer-sized particles in a wall-free environment that simulates the ambient atmosphere. The chemical reactivity and physical properties of particles are studied by a variety of non-destructive spectroscopic techniques. Samples will include model compounds and laboratory-generated aerosol material. Expected results include basic physical data (e.g.,vapor pressure, hygroscopicity) and physicochemical characterizations of atmospheric aerosols under realistic oxidizing conditions.

Isaac Ramphal in collaborative with Andrew Huisman, professor of chemistry
Project: A high-precision ozone photometer for use with the Union College Electrodynamic Balance
Amount: $2,000
Summary: While the influence of atmospheric aerosols on climate change is significant, large uncertainties in their effects pose a challenge for climate models. Organic aerosols account for the bulk of atmospheric reactions due to the versatile reactivity of various organic moieties. Ozonolysis reactions are particularly important, as they deplete ozone concentrations and produce molecules with enhanced climate forcing capabilities. A high-precision ozone monitor is used to quantify ozone concentrations in the apparatus, enabling quantitative characterization of the reactions of organic aerosols in the presence of ozone.

The College’s sustainability efforts have received national recognition. Union is regularly included among the country’s most environmentally responsible colleges, according to The Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges.” And the College has excelled at Recyclemania, an eight-week recycling and waste-reduction competition among colleges and universities across the United States and Canada, winning first place in the Corrugated Cardboard and Per Capita Classic categories of the competition in recent years.

To learn more about sustainability at Union, click here.