Unsustainability of Sustainable Green Energy Programs

Evidence of climate change continues to mount, and predictions of its consequences have prompted nations to begin researching and advocating sustainable environmental practices and alternative energies.

San Diego State University; Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin; Duke University; Cornell University and Arizona State University — among others — offer programs for students interested in “green” careers and sustainable practices. Youngstown State University, however, offers no such training for students.

“Truthfully, we’ve never really sat down to talk about it,” Scott Martin, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, said.

For those interested in energy production, YSU was quick to implement the Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute in 2012, a response to the Utica boom and it’s need for qualified workers.

The Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute was proposed in October 2011 and adopted in March of 2012.

It took less than a year for a shale and fracking specific minor to be formally introduced to Youngstown State, while sustainability and green energy solutions have been in the international spotlight for well over a decade. Yet YSU offers no majors, minors or certificates in anything resembling a sustainability education.

“By nature, its multidisciplinary, so it would involve multiple departments,” Martin said. “When you put together a minor or major program, the big question that comes up is ‘What classes would we need?’ and ‘Do we teach any of them currently?’ If not, do we have people that could teach them? And if not, could we hire them? And we’ve never had that discussion.”

Pre-existing classes and faculty that could serve as a cornerstone for a new program was a major reason why the Natural Gas and Water Resources major was implemented so quickly, and a lack of such courses and faculty is a reason why a similar major in green energies does not.

“We looked at what courses were taught currently and were able to find a number of courses already being taught that could contribute to that [Natural Gas and Water Resources] minor,” Martin said. “We probably, at this point, don’t have enough courses that focus on sustainability and alternative energy to form even the cornerstones of a minor.”

Despite YSU’s absence of sustainability related courses, the university is no stranger to green thinking.

In 2012 and 2013, teams from Youngstown State University placed first in the Green Energy Challenge, an annual nationwide competition held at the National Electrical Contractors Association Convention. In 2012, the team won best proposal, and in 2013 the team won best poster, which prompted students to create a visual plan to improve energy efficiency in a campus building.

Sustainable practices are even taking root outside of the university borders, despite Youngstown’s traditionally industrial mindset.

The Lettuce People, a business on the North Side, have created a hydroponic lettuce farm, selling their lab-grown lettuce and even hosting classes on hydroponic farming at their building. The Chopin Career center launched an aquaponics — the growing of vegetables and cultivating of fish in a closed ecosystem — program in 2012, and Grow Youngstown has provided a “Farm-to-You” locally grown produce subscription program since 2007.

With interest in sustainable practices clearly growing in the Mahoning Valley, it seems that the only reason a sustainability program does not exist at YSU is a perceived lack of potential jobs for graduates, and a lack of expressed interest by students.

“The launch of new programs is more or less market driven. We try to look for opportunities for students. … It depends on regional factors,” Martin said. “With the Natural Gas program, we had shale companies asking us for trained workers. If a wind energy company building turbines in Ohio showed interest in hiring trained workers, then there would be more reason to consider programs in those fields.”

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