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September 27, 2013
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Julie Snow frames sustainability chapter

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Julie Snow, Slippery Rock University professor of geography, geology and the environment, has been selected to tell the story of campus sustainability by writing a chapter in "Sustainability in Higher Education, Stories and Strategies for Transformation."

Snow penned chapter four of the 2013 release, "Bowling Gutter Balls: My First Year as the Energy Conservation Committee Chair."

Using bowling as a metaphor for her role as chair of SRU's Energy Conservation Committee, Snow provides a narrative of "the story of how I learned to succeed without my bumper pads."

Colorful subheads such as "Don't Be Chilly, Wear a Hoodie," and "Hope Dissolves: Love Prevails" enliven the essay.

The 300-page book, published by MIT Press and edited by Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology at Emory University, and Geoffrey Chase, dean of undergraduate studies at San Diego State University, includes 24 chapters on universities in the U.S.

"They wanted the stories to be real and honest, showing the struggle and the triumphs of those working on sustainability efforts in higher education," Snow said. "At the time I was writing the chapter, my story was really about energy and the energy committee. My committee has made tremendous headway in reducing energy consumption at SRU by 45 percent since 2004 but it hasn't always been a smooth process. The chapter is about that process and what has worked, and what hasn't."

Snow's involvement with the book began a few years ago when she and Langdon Smith, SRU professor of geography, geology and the environment, attended a leadership and curriculum conference at Emory University. Conference organizers sent out a request for a chapter abstract. Snow submitted hers about SRU's committee, and the editors/publishes selected it for inclusion.

Snow said the chapter title illustrates the ups and downs inherent in trying to engrain sustainability into all aspects of the University culture. She joined the committee in spring 2008 and became chair the following fall.

"This type of writing was difficult for me," said Snow, an expert in meteorology. "I usually write scientifically, not telling a personal story but the story of data. I was trying to think of a way to convey the excitement I felt when the committee got something accomplished. What it felt like to me was bowling. I don't bowl often so I get many gutter balls...but when I get a strike it makes all the previous gutter balls and the frustration from them disappear.

"This is how I feel when the committee is successful," she said. "It makes all the previous failings and frustrations disappear. I feel this way when I golf too. Getting one birdie makes the whole day worth it. Basically. I am OK with two steps forward, one back as long as the overall movement toward energy reduction is forward."

During the first year of the committee's existence, Snow said "bowling a strike" was elusive. The committee developed a list of projects that could save money even though its task was "sustainability on a $0 budget," she said.

The committee developed new ideas for conserving energy, such as altering the heating and cooling schedules for buildings, requiring utility metering in all buildings on campus and developing educational materials.

The committee recruited members from a spectrum of departments, including residence life, purchasing, information technology, University Police, the President's Office and the academic departments of geography, geology and the environment, business and communication.

"During the first year, we became a bowling team on a mission," she said. "We divided into two groups: One focused on energy efficiency and one focused on education," Snow wrote. "We viewed both paths as equally important."

A primary goal was to assess the use of lights on campus, she said, because committee members had a gut feeling lights were left on too often.

Undergraduate students conducted a simple light survey. Students walked one academic building on campus once every hour and recorded which rooms had lights on and if those rooms were occupied or unoccupied. The work revealed that 20 percent of the rooms in the building had their lights left on when they were unoccupied, resulting in a memo that asked campus members to turn lights off when not in use, Snow said.

After the first year, the committee reorganized, gathered momentum and began to see that the "bowling lane gleamed with opportunity," Snow said.

Former President Robert Smith signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment committing the University. Current President Cheryl Norton followed suit and later signed the commitment.

In 2011, the University launched an energy conservation campaign and pledge program called "Small Steps. Big Payoff." The program asked campus constituents to take a simple pledge to help conserve energy by committing to three energy saving actions from a list of nine. Options included unplugging chargers and appliances when not in use, powering computers down at night and printing on both sides of paper.

Other accomplishments spearheaded by the committee, Snow said, include reducing and increasing temperature set points, altering summer teaching schedules to use buildings more effectively and meetings with Marcellus shale companies to learn about fracking.

Future plans include "Wear Your Hoodie to Work Days" and turning down the temperature in buildings on Fridays.

Despite challenges, Snow said she loves to work on sustainability initiatives and "loves creating a world that will be better for my young daughter."

"My committee remains strong, committed to each other and to energy conservation at Slippery Rock University," Snow said. "We are still meeting Thursday mornings, still laugh and we are still interested in bowling, even into the gutter. We are strengthening existing campaigns and hope to further enhance educational components."

SRU has made much progress in sustainability planning and implementation. The University has committed itself to becoming a carbon neutral institution by 2037, and recently installed a "green roof" atop the Jack C. Dinger Building adjacent to Morrow Field House.

Trend 5 of "Reaching for 2025 and Beyond," the University's long-range strategic plan, cites sustainability as an institutional priority. SRU is committed to producing graduates with the skills to excel in a world of diminishing resources.

SRU's has demonstrated greening leadership in building design, energy management, sustainable food practices, recycling, transportation and purchasing. The Princeton Review has included SRU in its "Guide to 286 Green Colleges" that have shown an above average commitment to sustainability. Sierra Magazine recently recognized SRU for its greening efforts as well.

The University has installed energy-saving lighting systems and uses computer monitoring for heating and air conditioning control in campus buildings. New display systems are being installed in campus residence halls that will allow students to closely monitor their hall's energy consumption, with an eye toward reducing energy use.

Most recently, SRU recent selection to the 2013 Green Rating Honor Roll issued by The Princeton Review got the University included in an extensive "Thinking Green" report in Pittsburgh Magazine's September issue.

The 12-page article examines the work at a number of colleges and universities in the region that employ green technologies on their campuses.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.