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Clarkson earns kudos for environmentally focused education

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POTSDAM - Mark Bayer wanted to pursue two seemingly unrelated areas of study in college: civil engineering and sustainable design.

Officials at other schools he applied to “looked at him funny” when told them of his plans. But at Clarkson University, Bayer found his niche.

Four years later, he is about to graduate with bachelor of science degree in a civil engineering and minor in sustainable energy systems.

Bayer is embarking on a master’s degree project that will study energy use in two of Clarkson’s Woodstock Village apartment buildings soon to be renovated into sustainable “smart dorms.”

“It has positioned me well. I know buildings, how they’re designed, how they’re constructed, but also how they operate when it comes to the energy they consume,” said Bayer. “It was a program I felt allowed me the flexibility to pursue my energy-related interests while still getting a civil engineering degree. It’s kind of an unconventional pairing.”

Clarkson has been recognized for its “unconventional pairings:” its knack for incorporating a sustainability curriculum into its education and research, allowing students like Bayer to thrive. The Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) has given Clarkson a silver rating for its initiatives.

The university excelled in the education and research ranking, where it scored 71 of a possible 100 points. Of 11 comparison schools in New York state, only Ithaca College and Columbia University had higher scores in that category. And of nine schools in the northeast - the universities of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Amherst, Tufts, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia and Boston, only Columbia scored higher.

Clarkson has had a strong reputation for environmentally oriented research and academics for years, according to Susan Powers, the Jean ‘79 and Robert ‘79 Spence Professor in Sustainable Environmental Systems and associate director for sustainability in the Institute for a Sustainable Environment.

“Our recent STARS silver rating reflects our continuing commitment to incorporate sustainability into Clarkson’s way-of-life,” said Powers. “We have been able to excel because of the campus-wide belief that sustainability research and education is a priority.”

Academic programs such as the major in environmental science & policy, minor in sustainable energy systems and Clarkson’s Adirondack Semester factored into the ranking, Powers said, while lessons in sustainability have also been weaved into other classes and majors across campus. Clarkson’s sustainability themed clubs, such as ECO and the construction of a greenhouse featuring research on growing food in cost-effective ways during the winter, were also major factors in the rating.

Tiyi Brewster ’13, an environmental science and policy major, has tried to take advantage of as many of those opportunities as possible. As a freshman, she got involved in ECO and spearheaded a “Take it or Leave it Program” that encouraged students to donate items they would otherwise throw away at the end of the semester; ECO then donated those items to charity.

Brewster first found out about ECO in her freshman year.

“It resonated with me. They were like-minded souls,” she said. “I enjoyed our time thinking about how we can bring environmental issues to the Clarkson campus.”

Brewster has cultivated her passion in the environment during her Clarkson career. She traveled to Ecuador with the Engineers Without Borders program in order to create a “constructed wetland” that filters polluted water. She also participated in Clarkson’s Adirondack Semester, which is open to students with a desire to immerse themselves in environmental studies against the backdrop of the Adirondack Park.

“It’s something that has to be integrated into every part of your life to make it work,” Brewster said of sustainability. “It’s a lifelong search, a lifelong pursuit.”

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