It’s not easy being green: The Office of Sustainability gets down to earth

Do you ever wonder where the apple you are eating came from? Or what would happen if you tried to go a week without producing any waste?

The Office of Sustainability Internship Program’s mission for students is to improve sustainability at the College, develop skills and gain experience as a student and as a professional. Over the last few years, the internship program has seen numerous successful projects that could not have happened without the Intern and Student Coordinator Ashlyn Hochschild.

Hochschild arrived at the College of Charleston in 2011, when the program had only eight interns. Over the years, Hochschild has formulated a team of 30 interns who create and lead their own projects.

The people working together in the Office of Sustainability are a tight knit group who believe in each other and their projects. Hochschild’s goal as the director of the internship program is not based on the number of interns she has or even the amount of projects that are completed throughout the year. Rather, her aim is to “get students prepared to be able to go out into the world and create change regardless of the field that they are in.”

Urban Agriculture ties social justice to the garden as part of the Garden Apprenticeship program. (Photo by Kaleb Dill)

Urban Agriculture ties social justice to the garden as part of the Garden Apprenticeship program. (Photo by Kaleb Dill)

Of course Hochschild wants to see the success of the office’s projects, but what she focuses on is the growth and development of her interns. The positivity and support given to the interns who work under Hochschild is unprecedented. Everyone is treated equally, whether that person is a paid intern, an administrator or a volunteer. The atmosphere that Hochschild and other staff members have created is part of the reason why the Office of Sustainability has been so successful. When talking to Hochschild about the atmosphere she aims to construct, she said, “If  you work on something and it is not successful, instead of looking at it like a failure, it is more of an opportunity. There is no failure or weakness, it’s just about your opportunity. We don’t say weakness, we say what is your strength and what is your opportunity for growth?”

The familial atmosphere is not due only to Hochschild; there is also a set of special senior interns at the office who are just as responsible for the positive dynamic in the office. These standout seniors have been a part of unique projects and have also been instrumental in building up the office. Those seniors include Olivia Cohen, Sarah Fox, Katie Doherty and Tess Dooley.

Olivia Cohen, a double major in international studies and political science, is the leader of the Garden Apprentice Program. Cohen has been a part of the Office of Sustainability since her sophomore year and has always had an interest in sustainability.  She first started as a communication intern. Cohen held that position for three semesters, until she recently moved to Urban Agriculture, which ties social justice to the garden. “Connecting people to their food is a really wonderful form of empowerment,” she said. “It is also a really good way in building community. When the apprentices are out in the garden, they are so happy and it’s such a great bonding experience for everybody.”

Cohen is a senior who brings not only leadership to the office, but also experience to the program. The Garden Apprentice Program, like the other projects in the Office of Sustainability, has one or two chairs that lead the program and apprentices who help with the project. Volunteers also help with the different projects. The goal of the Garden Apprentice Program is “to explore theoretical and pragmatic applications of sustainable urban agriculture through workshops, field trips, seminar-style discussions and hands-on experience gained through volunteer opportunities and workdays in campus gardens.”

Sarah Fox, a public health and communication double major, has paired up with her best friend Katie Doherty, a marine biology major, to be leaders of the Greek Chair Program. The program encourages people in fraternities and sororities to become more involved with sustainability. The Greek Chair Program’s applications are open to representatives from any organization and they can become a Greek Chair for a year. When a person becomes a Greek Chair they gain hands on experience with sustainable ideas and practices.

Since beginning their work on the project in the past year, Doherty and Fox have seen a lot of progress.  Similar to the Office of Sustainability, the Greek Chair Program has skyrocketed in growth. For instance, when Doherty and Fox first arrived, there were nine Greek Chairs. But today, because of the hard work both of them have put in, the program now has 35 chairs.  Doherty and Fox have worked hand in hand on this project and their teamwork throughout has showed over the last year.

The Zero Waste Challenge, developed and introduced by Tess Dooley, is a challenge with the ultimate goal of creating the least of amount of waste as possible.  Dooley applied through ESPC, the ECOllective Student Project Committee, to receive kits that would provide the necessary tools to complete the project.  Dooley completed the Zero Waste Challenge over a two week period with ten other participants.

In the first week the participants would, instead of throwing their trash away, keep it. The idea was to see how much trash was collected in addition to what kind of trash was collected. During the second week Dooley and her team went the whole week being zero waste-avoiding packaging from foods and water bottles among other things. In addition, Dooley would meet with the other participants and have engaging conversations about the challenges and successes that people were having during the challenge.  Although there were details that seemed obvious to Dooley and her team, there were definitely some surprises. Dooley said, “I have a lot of the habits in place, it was just more of avoiding a couple things I haven’t figured out how to switch over [to] but there [were] definitely a couple [of challenges]. The hardest thing was avoiding straws so you have to prematurely ask people not to give you straws.”

Dooley, who has spent countless hours at the Office of Sustainability, is one of many who believes in the program’s diversity. The Office of Sustainability is an environment that caters to its students and allows for the students to grow, not only as academics but also in the community.

Hochschild wraps up what the Office of Sustainability stands for and what kind of organization it is when she says, “I think a lot of people measure the successes of a program but we measure it by the people who create those projects.”

*This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of the Yard.

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Nick Rodriguez is a senior at the College of Charleston entering his third year with Cisternyard News. He first started working at CYN his sophomore year and enters his first year as the Sports Editor. He hopes to continue sports journalism once he graduates. Other interests include: walking his dog and trying new foods. Don’t forget to keep scrolling and read Nick’s next post!

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