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College sends 'green' message

COC reaches out to students, staff and community with a focus on sustainability

Posted: July 25, 2009 9:30 p.m.
Updated: July 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

In celebration of Earth Day 2009, members of the College of the Canyons Students for Sustainability group handed out 100 biodegradable coco coir pots filled with native seeds to plant at home.

 
From classes to construction, College of the Canyons is focused on "thinking green" among its students, staff and the entire Santa Clarita Valley.

"There's no better place than a community college for beginning to instill sustainability in people's lives," said Jia-Yi Cheng-Levine, associate professor of English and chairwoman of the Sustainable Development Committee.

Over recent years, the committee, made up of college officials and community members, hosted a series of environment-themed activities, including movie nights and panel discussions, on campus and in the community.

The goal is to reach out to community college students, who represent a mix of teenagers and adults at different points in their lives.

"I always believe in the ripple effect of education," Cheng-Levine said.

That earth-minded focus is already part of the student-run on-campus organization, Students for Sustainability, which sponsors events like this year's first Vegan Earth Day.

"Becoming the next generation, it's important we have good practices now," said 19-year-old Taylor Harris, who joined the group last spring.

Another member, Danielle Crisp, 39, is studying civil and environmental engineering at College of the Canyons.

"We all need to step up and do our part because our resources are very limited and we have future generations coming up," she said. "We need to do what's best now to plan for future generations."

Crisp, who is back at school after a decade as a stay-at-home mom, hopes to use her degree from College of the Canyons to work in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certifications.

The committee also works with local school districts to organize events like the first environmental science fair for elementary school students.

A goal of the committee is to deliver its "think green" message through classes taken every day.

Dorothy Minarsch, department chair of architecture and interior design, is focused on making courses "greener" by mixing concepts about sustainability into the curriculum, she said.

Since Minarsch's students typically deal with materials and construction, classes focus on the types of paints, carpets and materials used and how those materials can be environmentally friendly.

"Students are much more aware, more conscious about the decision they're making," said Minarsch, who will co-chair the Sustainable Development Committee in the fall.

"Not just within projects they're working on in class - they're making decisions about their own lifestyles."

"It's an awakening for them," Minarsch said.

A LEED certification class was held for the first time this summer.

While the class was structured to prepare its 35 students for the LEED Green Associate Exam, adjunct professor Jason Oliver led students in lectures about sustainable development as a whole, he said.

"It opened a lot of people's eyes to how interrelated sustainability is, not just in personal habits, but in everything we do," Oliver said.

The class will most likely be offered again in the spring, he said.

The city of Los Angeles has approved a requirement that any major construction projects be built with LEED certification.

"That's a whole industry that got created overnight," Oliver said.

The "green" approach has been infused into construction around campus.

Two power-generation units, which have been running since the start of the year on the Valencia campus, generate nearly a megawatt of power, said Jim Schrage, vice president of facilities planning, operations and construction.

The units are able to generate 35 percent of the 2.8 megawatts of power used at College of the Canyons, he said.

"The cost of the power from the plants is far less than if we buy (power)," he said.

Furthermore, the generators produce heat, which is then used to heat water for the college's domestic hot water uses, he said.

The project cost $17 million, and Schrage expects payback in less than eight years.

"We're saving quite a bit of money," he said.

Besides generating some of its own power, the community college uses high-efficiency light bulbs in its 30 buildings and makes the best use of natural sunlight, he said.

Some classes are held using only natural light.

"We've been doing this way before it became popular to do this," he said.

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