Johnson County Community College

Students Present at Expo in St. Petersburg

Students travel to Russia for sustainability outreach program.

Four Johnson County Community College students decided to apply for a new exchange program to Russia tailored to environmentally aware college students.

Although they knew they had worked hard, their competition would be from some of the top research universities in the nation. They had little confidence they'd be selected.

Surprise. They got the nod.

Students Kait Bridges, Megan Gladbach, Kendyl McDougald and Emily Reno were selected to take part in the U.S. / Russia Eco-Reps Peer-to-Peer Sustainability Outreach Program, sponsored by a grant from the U.S. State Department and administered by the University of Kansas.

The four will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, at the conclusion of the spring semester to attend an international exposition and cultural exchange. Kristy Howell, coordinator for JCCC's Center for Sustainability and the team’s coach and mentor, will travel with them.

Hosts to Russians

Already the quartet hosted the students from St. Petersburg – mostly master- and doctorate-level scholars who conduct serious research for the good of the planet. The Russians visited during JCCC’s Earth Week festivities, which was a pleasant coincidence.

"It was really nice to have them here then," Gladbach said. "They looked exhausted, but I think they had a good time."

The guests also spent days in Lawrence and in Greensburg, Kansas, which was rebuilt using earth-friendly practices following a tornado.

When the JCCC students head to Russia, they'll attend an exposition where they'll present their project.

Awareness as a goal

The project centers first on efforts to quantify student awareness of JCCC's sustainability projects and practices. Second, the team created a four-color brochure to increase awareness of these activities and requested funding support for the printing costs from the Student Sustainability Committee.

"Originally, we had quite a few projects in mind," said Reno. "We thought about starting a community garden, but there's a lot of planning that needs to go into that, and with the two-month timeline (to finish and submit the project), we realized a garden was not going to be feasible."

Gladbach liked the idea of measuring how much students knew about JCCC’s sustainability. "Rather than work on another project that goes unnoticed, we decided to bring attention to the ones that already were in place," she said.

They discovered that 77 percent of the students surveyed knew JCCC had its own campus farm, but only 52 percent knew that proceeds from the recycling program go to student scholarships.

Right people, right time

When they turned their attention to designing the brochure, they enlisted the help of graphic design student Liz Cannon. Two hundred copies were printed, showing on a campus map the locations of sustainability projects. The brochure also contains fast facts and information on eco-curriculum and learning. It also has information on annual sustainability events, the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) and the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC).

Membership in these two student groups is what brought the team together.

After hearing about the opportunity through a national call for proposals, Center for Sustainability staff brought the project up at SSC and SEA meetings last October.  Through their shared interest in improving sustainable practices on campus, all four students began working soon after to come up with a research proposal to benefit JCCC's campus as a whole when implemented.

"It's wonderful that they were selected, but at first I couldn't believe it," said Howell.

"All the other groups from the U.S. and Russia are from four-year schools with research programs. It's a real honor to be the only community college chosen," she said.