Categorized | State Side

Tree Hugging Together

The seventh floor of Hubbard Hall looks like any in this dorm; there are bulletin boards full of events and information and name tags on each door that say, “Hello My Name is…”
[bigwindmill]But appearances can be deceiving. One bulletin board is always about the environment, and the name tags are made from biodegradable paper that, when planted, grows flowers. This is because 7 North Hubbard is home to the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment (RISE).
RISE was created in 1995 for students who want to learn more about the environment and eventually earn a specialization in environmental studies. It complements two other residential living and learning communities on campus: James Madison College, which focuses on social sciences, and Lyman Briggs School, which focuses on natural sciences.
Environmentalism is an increasingly visible worldview on campus, sometimes to the point of being trendy. Students carry SIGG brand aluminum water bottles, eco-friendly notebooks and canvas bags; they wear shirts with slogans like “tree hugger” and “green is the new black.” It is no surprise some students want to extend their eco-friendliness to their living quarters. [dr]
Dr. Laurie Thorp is the program director for RISE. She says RISE’s popularity has paralleled the “going green” trend, especially in the past three years. “I give Al Gore credit. When Inconvenient Truth came out, I saw a large rise in enrollment,” she said.
This year RISE is 210 students strong, and more colleges are asking to get involved with the program, Thorp said. RISE students can come from the colleges of Arts and Letters, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science and Social Science. “We currently serve six colleges. The College of Business just approached me about joining and will likely be added in January,” Thorp said.
Students who join RISE freshman year live on one of two designated floors in Hubbard Hall; one for men and one for women. The goal is for these students to become tight-knit groups, have familiar faces in classes and help each other ease the transition into college life.
However, students do not have to join freshman year to work toward an environmental studies specialization. Whether students join freshman year or later, they must all complete the same core courses required for the specialization, along with the classes they need for their specific major, much like adding on a minor degree. Students can still major in whatever they want. The only requirement is that their current major permits the specialization.
[leaves]Students in the program must complete a list of required courses that add up to 23 credits to receive a specialization. Two of these are courses in geological sciences and integrative studies in social sciences. There is no academic requirement to join the program, but students who wish to join as freshmen must apply because spaces are limited in the dorms. There is no limit on the amount of students who can join the program later.
Students entering RISE in the 2009-2010 school year could move into a West Circle dorm rather than Hubbard. Relocating the program is being considered to house it in more personal setting. “[This would offer] a smaller residence hall where we can establish a stronger culture of environmentalism and sustainability,” Thorp said.
Sophomore environmental and economics policy major Stephanie Edlinger lived on the RISE floor in Hubbard last year. She said she really enjoyed the energy and excitement on her floor, but thought relocating was a good idea. “Traveling to class was always a chore, especially when the weather became colder. Moving to a more central location in West Circle would be beneficial to future RISE students,” Edlinger said.
No matter where RISE is located, students in the program will still participate in the same activities. An emphasis is placed on hands-on learning. Students conduct energy audits in MSU residence halls to find out how much energy they use and how much they could potentially conserve it. RISE students also take field trips to rivers and conduct tests that show what is living in the river and how much life the body of water can support. Less academic endeavors include RISE tailgates before home football game (everyone brings their own cups instead of using disposable ones that will end up in landfills) and trips in the fall to the cider mill. [fleury]
A fall retreat for RISE students took place in mid-September at Gull Lake, near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Swimming, spending time by a campfire, canoeing, going on nature hikes and watching bird sanctuaries were some of the activities students enjoyed most.
Kevin Fleury is the resident mentor for the RISE floor, and although he is not a part of the RISE program, he went on the fall retreat to support his residents. He said he was impressed how easily the RISE students and their faculty get along during the retreat and back on campus. “Dr. Thorp has a really positive relationship with her students. She is laid back and a lot of fun,” he said.
Only six of Fleury’s residents are actually in the RISE program, but he said even those not involved have nothing but positive things to say about the program. They may not be in RISE, but having the program around encourages everyone to reduce their eco-footprint starting in their dorm room.
“I spent all summer looking for something cool for RISE students. I decided to make signs for the door out of biodegradable paper. I spent about $175 on 65 tags but came to find there were only six RISE students,” he said.
Fleury said most of the students living on the female RISE floor are involved with the program.
[evening]Edlinger, who joined the program as freshman last year, said it was a good idea to have RISE students live together because it made high school to college transition much easier. “It was a really good experience. Everyone I live with this year, I met last year through RISE,” she said. After graduation, she is considering using her specialization to be a business consultant and help companies “go green.”
The RISE community is full of undergrads with big ideas. Living in a community with people, idea boards, discussions, field trip and even nametags that care for our planet is making the environmental studies specialization these students get just a little bit greener.

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