By Annalisa Tarizzo
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Office of Sustainability works to Make Orange Green by promoting a sustainable and equitable campus community. We take pride in our role as part of the state’s flagship land-grant university and our responsibility to mitigate the social impacts of climate change. Through student engagement and collaborative programming, we tackle issues related to waste diversion, resource conservation, food justice, and more.
While our mission statement, listed above, directly aligns with the values of many CAC AmeriCorps sites in the environmental conservation, education, and food insecurity alleviation spheres, the Performance Logs that our members submit don’t always quantitatively reflect our impact in the traditional ways. We don’t maintain hundreds of miles of trails or waterways or perform environmental education for any Knoxville youngsters. At the beginning of the 2019-20 term, the AmeriCorps members sat down with site supervisor, Jay Price, to come up with our own performance metrics for the year. Here’s how our progress has shaken out:
23 Student Interns:
Academic Engagement Specialist, Cassie Austin, took on management of the Sustainability Internship Program at the start of her term, growing the program from the 6 interns hosted during the 2018-19 academic year to 23! The student interns have taken on projects from testing micro-plastic emissions in campus laundry facilities to piloting a reusable to-go container program in a campus cafe.
8 Successful Home Football Games (+ 1 Garth Brooks Concert):
Saturdays from September to November are more often than not filled with thoughts of Volunteer football. Typically the Office of Sustainability works to divert waste from 7 home football games, but this season was a doozy with 8 football games, plus a huge Garth Brooks concert in Neyland Stadium to top it off. The preparation process includes placing and keeping track of over 800 compost and recycling bins placed around campus and in the stadium, as well as recruiting volunteers (students and other CAC AmeriCorps members contributed over 450 volunteer hours during the 2019 season).
Each game day, six of our AmeriCorps members, plus the rest of our full-time and student worker staff, put in a full day’s worth of work distributing recycling bags, teaching tailgaters what and what not to recycle, and collecting recyclable items from tailgates once everyone heads to the stadium for kick-off. The game day work of our seventh and final AmeriCorps member begins after the game has ended, where Leah McCord leads a team of student volunteers who recover food from the stadium skyboxes to be donated to area nonprofits. It makes for some long days, but we’re proud to say we made it through our busiest season yet.
18 Zero Waste Events:
Through organizing these events, some of which had over 3000 attendees, Jillian Lentz and her student assistants have diverted over 5000 lbs of recyclable and compostable materials from going into the landfill. This is not including food donations, which have recovered 14,392.7 lbs of food since August for donation to area nonprofits.
11 Waste Audits and 1000+ Offices with My Tiny Trash:
From January to March, Jillian was able to complete implementation of this waste reduction program in over 1000 offices, and hopes to finish remaining offices when we have building access again. She and her team performed several waste audits on individual campus buildings (11 of which were most successful for data collection) that will be used to compare the pre- and post- diversion rates and measure the effectiveness of My Tiny Trash.
3 New Campus Events:
Biketoberfest, a brand new event created by Heather Brinton, consisted of a week of events and programming dedicated to educating campus about alternative modes of transportation. Adult-sized tricycles and a bike-powered blender for making smoothies were the hits of the week.
Last year, we heard from students doing research in the environmental field that they wanted more places to show it off. This pushed Leah Fontaine to rethink a previous event, Campus Sustainability Day, and ask how we could make it work better for students. Through this, we created the Sustainability Symposium, which combined the idea of showcasing research with the traditional resource fair offered at Campus Sustainability Day in the past. We hosted a big all-day event that celebrated both student research and community opportunities, and capped off the festivities with a Climate Action Town Hall in the evening where UT researchers and community leaders held an open discussion on solutions to the climate crisis. In future years, we are hoping to focus more on the research side of this event, but we are excited to see how it evolves to better serve the Volunteer community.
SNAP Awareness Day, organized by Leah M., gave students the opportunity to learn about campus food insecurity and food assistance resources, as well as sign up for SNAP onsite with the help of Miss Alice from CAC.
24 Class (+ 1 National Conference) Presentations:
Cassie, Jillian, and Leah M. have been responsible for the bulk of our class engagement this year and have reached hundreds of students with their presentations about the office, waste reduction, and campus food insecurity. Leah M. even had the opportunity to present her work with the Grow Lab at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference in Spokane, WA in October 2019.
1 New Online Certification Training:
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the whole UT team, led by Cassie, has begun work to launch a new online training course, “Make Orange Green Ambassadors”, for students, faculty, and staff to complete while they’re stuck at home this summer. It’s set to launch on Canvas, UT’s course platform, in mid-May.
2019-20 UT Office of Sustainability Team
Cassie Austin is originally from Durham, North Carolina and graduated in 2019 from North Carolina State University with a BS in Environmental Engineering. In college, she was involved with various environmental organizations, including the Sustainability Stewards and Food Recovery Network. This year, she has further developed the Sustainability Internship Program which helps students find a passion for sustainability no matter what degree they are pursuing. She is passionate about environmental education and loves to teach others about how to be more sustainable in their daily lives. Cassie is looking forward to growing the Internship Program even more as she takes on a second term next year. When not working, she enjoys hiking, drinking coffee, and finding good deals while thrift shopping.
An alum of the University of Tennessee, Heather Brinton was thrilled to be returning to Knoxville as the new Alternative Transportation Coordinator for the UT Office of Sustainability. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Sustainability, Heather went on to obtain her Master’s degree in Sustainability from Lipscomb University. While in school, Heather volunteered alongside several AmeriCorps members and was always inspired by the passion they showed for their service. It was the dedication of those previous service members that guided Heather into applying for a CAC AmeriCorps position. She has enjoyed her first term and is looking forward to beginning a second term in the fall, this time as the Outreach Coordinator.
Leah Fontaine hails from Byhalia, Mississippi and received a BA in Anthropology and Religious Studies from The University of Alabama. She planned to go to graduate school for Museum Studies but found herself unsure of the career path she wanted in the future. While searching online for other opportunities, she found AmeriCorps! She has loved working at the University of Tennessee so far and is still getting used to saying Go Vols! Her passion has always been to educate and make a difference, so she is excited to continue this work as next year’s VISTA Leader with CAC.
“The smellier, the better.” Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Taylor Hamlin chose UT to finish her Bachelor’s of Forestry. After graduation Taylor briefly moved to Minnesota before coming back “home” to Knoxville. Remembering several classmates who served in AmeriCorps during school and boasted about their time, Taylor realized that it was the right choice. Coming back to UT was even easier. At the compost site Taylor acts as a liaison and compost assistant. In her free time she likes to hike, backpack, camp, go caving, and anything to do with the water.
Drawn to the green spaces of Knoxville and availability of environmental courses, Jillian Lentz moved from Clarksville, Tennessee to attend UT. After graduating with a degree in Geology and Environmental Studies in 2018, she was hired at a local non-profit called Three³ to help research the health benefits of weatherizing homes. Her coworker, a CAC AmeriCorps alumnus, spoke highly of their experience and encouraged applying. The position of Zero Waste Coordinator with UT’s Office of Sustainability caught her attention as her study of interest is food waste. During her term, Jillian has made great strides in completing the implementation of My Tiny Trash and has coordinated tons of new zero waste events on campus.
Leah McCord grew up and still lives on a farm in Maryville, TN. She is currently finishing a degree in Anthropology & Religious Studies, graduating in May, with a focus on socially sustainable communities. She loves books; quirky, dark comedies; tea; solo traveling; and her gaggle of nieces, nephews, and godchildren. Leah is very passionate about sustainable agriculture, food justice, issues surrounding women and children, and living a purposeful life. She hates unnecessary packaging, cilantro, and scented candles more than is probably good for anyone.
Originally from the Chicagoland area, Annalisa Tarizzo studied Italian and French with a minor in Global Sustainability at the University of Michigan. Near the end of her time at Michigan, she realized that environmental work and sustainability are her true passions, so she applied to AmeriCorps to gain real-world experience in the field she’s planning to pursue in the future. She loves playing guitar, backpacking, and traveling whenever she can.
This blog post is a collection of personal reflections and expressions. All opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent the official opinion or views of the Knoxville – Knox County Community Action Committee, CAC AmeriCorps or any other party referenced.