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Faculty Director Mark Westa, associate professor of landscape architecture
Living the Green Dream at College
Green mission: The EcoHouse Learning Community at the University of Connecticut is home to undergraduate students across academic disciplines who share a passion for environmental issues and sustainable living. The community strives to be a focal point for student environmental activity at the university. Members actively work with residence halls, community service projects, student organizations and one another in order to improve the university’s relationship with the environment.
Moving onto a huge college campus with thousands of students can be an intimidating experience for A college freshman. The University of Connecticut aims to make that transition easier by providing students with smaller learning communities such as EcoHouse, the hub of student environmental activity on the Storrs campus.
Now in its third year, EcoHouse brings together students from all areas of study with varying interests in the environment, explains David Ouimette, executive director of first-year programs and learning communities at UConn.
“The concept is for these students to have academic classes [relating to environmental studies] as well as do service learning opportunities, both on campus and in the community,” Ouimette says. “They come back and talk about these and the impact they have, and how what we’re studying relates to the practical experiential learning going on.”
About 100 students currently live in EcoHouse, about half of whom are first-year students and the rest upperclassmen. Students take a one-credit class relating to the environment. Community service activities they participate in include campus cleanups, recycling efforts and “alternative spring breaks,” including a trip to Florida earlier this semester to do marine restoration work.
Mark Westa, faculty director of EcoHouse, says that having students from diverse backgrounds living in EcoHouse makes for an interesting and stimulating dynamic.
“Some are coming at it with good technical knowledge, and others are seeing it from more of a typical point of view,” Westa explains. “They’re going home at Thanksgiving and sharing what they learned with their grandmother, and getting their families to do more [environmentally friendly practices].”
In addition to providing students with an avenue to forming lasting relationships on campus, EcoHouse aims to teach students about how best to help the environment beyond Storrs.
“It’s about a better general knowledge about the environment, and how we as consumers impact the environment and play a role in either conserving resources or just doing better with our decision-making,” Westa says.
Junior Andrew Lyons, who has lived in EcoHouse since it opened its doors during his freshman year, is studying natural resources at UConn. Lyons says that previously he was concerned he would end up in a dorm with people who did not share his interests or values.
“I saw EcoHouse as a perfect opportunity to become active in my college community while being surrounded by people who have similar principles and environmental concerns as I do,” Lyons explains. “Everyone is extremely passionate about what they believe in and is genuinely involved in the larger UConn community.”
Lyons adds that EcoHouse has afforded him the unique experience of living on UConn’s first student-run organic farm, Spring Valley Student Farm.
“One goal I have for EcoHouse is to expand the local organic agriculture that is going on here,” he says. “Spreading awareness and getting more people involved with producing their own food is something I would like EcoHouse to lead the way as a model for the student body.”
— Kathryn M. Roy
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