UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new program in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is helping students reduce their carbon footprints while studying abroad.
The Sustainable and Accessible Study Abroad initiative began last year to encourage students to incorporate sustainable practices into their study abroad experiences by supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The program also provides alternative global programming such as virtual courses or internships with a global focus or hosted internationally. In addition, the initiative is aimed at making global learning more accessible for students, which may include providing funding for studying abroad or offering virtual options with lower costs.
“For students and faculty who are participating in or leading a course or program with international travel, we are working on concrete options to provide them with ways to think about their carbon footprint and how to minimize their environmental impact when traveling,” said Ketja Lingenfelter, assistant director for student global engagement.
Lingenfelter explained that most students who study abroad must travel by airplane, which is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Students can positively offset the carbon created through international plane travel and transportation by being conscious of waste and pollution and looking for ways to minimize it both at home and abroad.
Among those embracing the initiative are students in the embedded course, “Environmental Resource Management 499: Costa Rica Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources.” Biodigester construction, renewable energy generation, climate change mitigation and sustainable farming are among the service projects in which students take part while in Costa Rica.
Though their spring 2022 trip was postponed due to COVID-19, the students hope to make the journey in spring 2023. In anticipation of their trip, they have been working on projects in the State College community that support sustainability, noted Tammy Shannon, ERM adviser and course instructor.
“Most of the students enrolled in ERM study abroad courses are interested in conservation, sustainability and natural resources,” she said. “Balancing the benefits of in-person travel to another country — global competencies, partnerships with international organizations, and firsthand experience while being immersed in another culture — with the carbon emissions it requires to travel abroad is more complicated than straightforward at first glance.”
Although specific carbon calculations have not been a part of the programming in the past, Shannon said, the students were very receptive to better understanding this balance and participating in service projects with State College Borough, Clearwater Conservancy and the Centre Region Council of Governments. The work included maintaining rain gardens and riparian buffers, planting trees, and volunteering for solar initiatives.
Iyanna Moultrie, a senior majoring in environmental resource management with a minor in sustainability leadership, was among the students who helped to remove invasive species, clear debris from check dams and trim vegetative overgrowth at the Easterly Parkway rain garden.
“The most rewarding aspect was knowing that my actions were positively impacting the environment to help control runoff and benefit the nearby community by protecting their waterways from harmful pollutants,” she said. “Being aware of my actions and how I impact the Earth is the least I can do to do my part in combatting climate change, even if it is just an individual action.”
Though she won’t be traveling to Costa Rica in the spring, Moultrie, of Detroit, Michigan, plans to travel abroad post-graduation. “I hope to travel to Nigeria, Costa Rica and other countries to help fight for environmental justice for low-income communities and aid in providing sustainable methods to manage and reduce waste,” said Moultrie, whose career plans involve helping urbanized communities manage/reduce waste and tackle environmental injustices.
Dana Sanchez, a junior majoring in environmental resource management with minors in watersheds and water resources and in marine sciences, also was inspired to engage in the service projects, especially those that involved improving water quality.
“I learned a lot about how agricultural and nutrient runoff affects our streams and our water quality,” said Sanchez, who plans to attend graduate school to study water resource management. “I’m passionate about protecting water resources, especially in developing countries, so engaging in these types of hands-on projects furthers my knowledge.”
Beyond the community service projects for the ERM class, Sanchez, of Reading, has worked on other sustainability projects at Penn State, including solar energy and nutrient management in agricultural systems. She said she values the college’s and the University’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to make a better future for all.
“It makes me proud to be part of Penn State and pushes me to excel in my environmental science education,” Sanchez said. “It is important to me to try to work toward being eco-friendly and reducing my carbon footprint as much as possible. I am grateful that Penn State provides us with opportunities to do that.”
More information can be found online at https://agsci.psu.edu/global/
–Amy Duke, Penn State University