Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the dedication of the new solar arrays that are being installed on the top of one of the Mercer Court buildings. Quite a few students, faculty and administrators attended, as well as guest speakers Governor Jay Inslee and Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation—both big proponents of solar power.
Known as UW-Solar, the project involves installing 178 panels on the roof, and monitors will then publish real-time and historical energy production and savings data online. It’s an impressive and exciting undertaking, and nothing struck me more than learning the effort was completely spearheaded by University of Washington students.
I was told the Mercer Court dorms were built with the foresight to include infrastructure for solar panels, but the cost was apparently prohibitive at the time. It took the drive and determination of a group of students—including one of our SEFS graduate students, Allison McGrath, who is earning a joint master’s with the Evans School of Public Affairs—to spark this huge commitment to solar energy. In the end, these enterprising young leaders managed to raise $174,900 to help build the solar array.
Those students could have shied away from the sheer magnitude of raising that much money. They could have balked at the enormity of confronting the social and economic challenges associated with climate change. Instead, they’re celebrating the payoff of more than a year of planning, prodding and organizing, and their perseverance—their fearlessness in pursuing their passions—gave me a huge pulse of pride in our students.
You can find that same enthusiasm and initiative in other students throughout the School, College and University. In so many ways, they recognize the gravity of the challenges ahead, and they’re anxious to get involved and find solutions. At a time when so many of us feel precariously pressed for free minutes, these students are finding ways to stretch their hours almost miraculously (do they sleep?). On top of their course schedules, they’re taking on multiple projects and commitments, forming clubs and groups and partnerships, and they’re doing it all with uncompromised optimism and energy.
We have students spending their spring breaks down at Pack Forest to plant seedlings as part of a 75-plus-year tradition in sustainable forest management. They’ll never get to see these trees fully mature, yet they’re proudly investing in forests for future generations to use and enjoy. We also have freshmen organizing eco-fashion shows on campus, raising money and awareness for endangered species around the planet. Then we have other students leading divestment campaigns, creatively rallying support for sustainability through everything from campus forums to poetry slams. And all of these activities also build lasting friendships, connections and social networks that might otherwise be limited to class and dorm room interactions.
You can take so many lessons from these students. Most of all, I’m inspired by their action and ideas. Learning at a university is and must be a two-way street, and here the students are teaching us that there’s more to a minute than we might think, and that you can never be too busy to help others and to make a difference.
Photo © UW Solar.