From the moment Dylan Patterson and Amber Greaney stepped foot onto IUPUI’s campus, they started living out O’Neill’s motto to Major in Making a Difference. The two students—both majoring in sustainability management and policy—knew there was work to be done.
“I took environmental science in high school and realized there were a lot of problems in this world,” Greaney says. “Someone’s got to solve them. Why not me?”
Patterson echoes that sentiment. Like many O’Neill students, they were drawn toward making the world a better place and improving their community.
“I realized one day that I didn’t want to spend every single day helping just one person, but rather I wanted to work toward something that would have a bigger impact,” Patterson says.
It’s passion they follow, not a paycheck.
“None of us are here to make a fortune,” he adds. “We’re getting these degrees because we want to advance society and help the current situation.”
Greening IUPUI grants
One of their first classes was with Jessica Davis, an adjunct O’Neill faculty member and director of the IUPUI Office of Sustainability. Their semester-long assignment was to write a grant for Greening IUPUI. The university provides $50,000 annually for various projects that advance campus sustainability and improve the university’s STARS score.
“We wanted to pick a one-time implementation that would have lasting effects,” Greaney says. “We also wanted a project that could serve as a continual visual representation of sustainability.”
As an urban campus, the team knew water scarcity would be increasingly important in the future. So they focused on installing low-flow, dual-flush handles in restrooms around campus.
“It was very practical,” Patterson adds. “It was a product you purchase and install, that’s already been shown to save water. It only takes three years to recoup the cost, so it makes no sense to not to do it.”
They admit the grant-writing process was daunting, especially as freshmen. They weren’t sure who to talk to, how to do a cost-benefit analysis, of which agencies to contact for help. But each step of the way, Davis was there to support them.
“The entire semester was breaking this project down, piece by piece, as assignments in the class, which helped us get it done correctly and have a strong proposal in the end,” Patterson says.
Not only did the group complete their assignment, they submitted it to the university and were ranked as the top project that year. Their sustainability grant got a green light, but it also opened doors to other opportunities.
Davis’ office had openings for internships—funded by another Greening IUPUI grant. Patterson became the energy intern, and Greaney served as the recycling intern. Both credit their grant-writing experience in class for preparing them for their internships.
“We had shown Jessica how we worked and the material we could develop,” he recalls. “I think that was a really helpful push in us getting the positions with the office.”
As the energy intern, Patterson developed an on-campus energy challenge in 2018. Buildings compete against each other to see which one can reduce their energy footprint the most during a three-week period. Greaney’s work with the office focused on how to reduce waste and increase compost and recycling rates in buildings across campus. The 2019 Energy Challenge runs from September 20–October 19 between Tower Hall, North Hall, University Library, and the Campus Center.
“It’s cool to see what we’re learning in class be put into context in our internship,” Greaney says. “I’m obtaining actual, tangible skills that will be useful once we graduate. Unifying a recycling program, learning how to train zero waste, managing building waste profiles, that’s all stuff I could actually do in my career later on.”
This year, Patterson is the sustainable landscapes intern, while Greaney has taken over as energy intern. Both also serve in leadership roles for IUPUI’s Student Sustainability Council. They say anyone can come and join, bring ideas, or just listen for ways to get involved.
O’Neill on a bigger scale
Their leadership roles with the council means they attend the annual Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education with staff members from the Office of Sustainability. At the 2018 conference, Patterson and Greaney presented their work on low-flow handles during a student project poster session.
“One of the most rewarding things for me is to be able to say we wrote this grant, secured funding, and are making a change on campus,” Patterson says.
Nearly 170 students from other universities across the country were there as well, alongside professionals in the field presenting what their campuses are doing to become more sustainable.
Patterson says the idea isn’t to brag about what you’re doing, but rather to share your ideas and work so other students can start similar projects in their communities. After all, spreading the message of sustainability and impacting the world is the end goal for both Greaney and Patterson.
“It was like we found the O’Neill School, just on a larger scale,” Greaney says. “There were so many people working to advance sustainability in higher education, encompassing everything from preventing food waste and combating food deserts, to developing behavior change campaigns on energy savings and increase the quality of life on campus and for surrounding communities.”
Patterson chimes in: “Sustainability is about protecting the environment so people can live better, more fulfilling lives. It’s as simple as that.”