Despite living in an urban area, students learn how they can be stewards of the environment
by REBEKA HUMBRECHT
After leading a pilot project in spring 2019, Wagner College will be reinstating its composting initiative in full force.
A few years ago, the campus’ Center for Leadership and Community Engagement started a composting site on the campus. It had only been in use for some community outreach projects, rarely by students. Environmental biologist Elizabeth Suter, who works at the college, saw this as an opportunity to grow the composting site into something much greater.
In the fall 2018 semester, the site was used to help aid in different learning initiatives that aligned with courses at the college. In spring 2019, Suter took it further. The pilot project gathered students to help collect food scraps from the campus cafeteria. While they were only able to make the compost a few times, the program saw great success.
Suter explained that her motivation to learn and do more about composting came from a previous internship at the Lower East Side Ecology Center. “That experience showed me that composting is one of the major ways that urban residents can be in touch with their local ecology,” she told the Advance. A college campus is the perfect place to start a composting initiative, she explained, because it’s a concentrated place that generates lots of waste.
“[L]iving in a city, it’s easy to lose site of the impacts that we may have on the environment. Having this chance to expand on the composting program at Wagner gives us the opportunity to show students that even though they are in a major urban center, they can be environmental stewards,” Suter said.
In creating the program, she hopes that the education tied to it will help students gain a better and more informed relationship with their environment and waste management.
The proposed program received an internal Fox Fellow’s grant. The grant allots $10,000 to support “faculty research and scholarship in the area of civic engagement, consistent with the Wagner Plan, with a particular emphasis on projects that focus on the development of communities.”
The grant allows for the school to hire three student Composting Leaders, who will be trained by the NYC Composting Program and help further the initiative. The project will collaborate with different clubs on campus to get more students involved as well.
The team is working on creating a bike-and-trailer system to make moving compost across campus easier, as the composting site and cafeteria are on opposite sides of the campus.
Once the composting program is fully in swing, there are hopes to start a community garden using the compost as soil. The garden currently sits behind the Megerle Science Building on campus but is rarely used.
The program will be led by Josh Mullenite, a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Culture and Economy. Mullenite says that he hopes that by creating a sustainable garden students can learn about solutions to soil quality, access to fresh food, and environmental inequality.
“Staten Island was a literal dumping ground for the rest of the city for so long, and the borough is only now really starting to undo parts of that history. I think composting offers students a practical way to think about alternatives to landfills while at the same time learning about microbiology, soils, and the environment more generally,” says Mullenite.