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Moravian College

Audrey McSain '16

“Assessing Sustainability Efforts at Moravian College Using AASHE STARS”

Major/Minor: Environmental Policy and Economics Major, Ethics Minor, and Sociology Minor
Hometown: Eagleville, PA
Project Advisers: Dr. Frank Kuserk and Nick DeSalvo

Briefly describe your project.

The purpose of my project is to assess our sustainability performance here at Moravian College using STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessing, and Rating System, which is a self-reporting tool of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Ultimately, the goal is for the school to use the information I have collected as Moravian College’s first submission as a full subscriber to STARS by 2016 or early in the New Year. 

This project also entails analyzing the sustainability of other institutions. Using the institutions’ submissions, I am compiling information about numerous institutions in a single place to make it easily accessible which, after deeper analysis, will allow us to see the standard of sustainability credit-by-credit. 

Describe the origin of your project. (E.g., did you pitch the idea and choose a faculty member, or did they come to you with an idea?)

This opportunity came to me through an internship with the Sustainability Committee during the Spring 2015 semester. Dr. Kuserk and Nick DeSalvo are both key members of the Sustainability Committee here on campus and the group was looking for an intern to take on the task of collecting information for the STARS report. This eventually led to me to giving a presentation at President’s Council where I described STARS, what it entails, and why we, as Moravian College, should become a full subscriber to this system. Afterwards, I remember President Grigsby saying, “Okay, how can we help you with this?” It was in that moment I realized the presentation had gone well, and by the end of the meeting we had the Council’s support. Shortly after, Dr. Kuserk, Nick, and I discussed the next steps and it ended up as my SOAR project for the summer.

What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project?

The best part about working with my advisors is learning from them. Both Dr. Kuserk and Nick DeSalvo have expertise that overlaps, but also expertise that does not. For example, Nick is knowledgeable about sustainability in multiple ways, but very much so from an operational standpoint. Being a faculty member, Dr. Kuserk lends insight from an academic and institutional perspective. Having two advisors like this makes my learning experience better rounded. Working with them to plan, navigating around challenges, and envisioning the future of sustainability here at Moravian College has been a great experience.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

Quite honestly, the biggest obstacle is simply waiting. Much of the project requires me to rely on others for their expertise corresponding with the STARS credits. From the initial outreach, to meeting with each individual in person to explain the project, to receiving the information takes a decent amount of time. Beyond that, certain information is much more difficult to attain than others, which only adds to the wait. This was an expected element of the project though.

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

A number of important lessons have been learned this summer. However, the most meaningful takeaway from this experience is that I now have a much better sense of direction for my future. I want to pursue a career in sustainability. 

What was the result of your project? Was it congruent with your hypothesis?

Due to the nature of the project, results are something that we must wait for. Some results we are looking forward to receiving are our STARS score and rating. Will we earn a bronze just like our neighbors, Muhlenberg College and Lehigh University? We will not have that information until Moravian College submits the report as a subscriber and we are notified by AASHE STARS. I am also looking forward to the completion of the Summary and Recommendation Reports, which encompass the summaries and future visions of sustainability here on campus.

Do you think you’ll be able to extend on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

The nature of the STARS system and conducting a project like this is highly cyclical. Once a STARS subscriber, institutions must submit a report every year, so there will be many opportunities in the future for students take on this research. As for the current project, it will not be wrapped up by the end of SOAR. A significant amount of work has been done, but I would like to see this first initial round of the project through. There is no doubt in my mind that this research can be extended.