While students are settling into their school routine, two NMU professors are researching community interest in environmental issues on campus.
Jill Leonard, a biology professor at Northern, and Suzanne Williams, the head of the chemistry department, were awarded a Wildcat Innovation Fund, a new grant available to staff and faculty through the offices of the provost and the vice president of academic affairs to help support projects at Northern.
Leonard and Williams were awarded the grant at the beginning of summer to see if there was any interest across campus to create an “umbrella organization” under which all of the university’s already established environmentally related programs could be tied together.
In addition, the grant also covers the creation of a Web site which will provide information for every environmentally related program on campus.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in environmental stuff up here and obviously we live in a beautiful environment,” said Williams. “Right now we’re having these discussions to try to get everyone to put in their thoughts and ideas to find the package that works best for Northern.”
Leonard and Williams are working to gain feedback from students and faculty to see if this environmental institute is wanted on campus.
“A lot of people get this wrong,” said Williams. “Our project isn’t to design the organization; it’s to see if there is enough interest to be able to get this thing off its feet.”
A survey was sent out at the beginning of the semester asking students and faculty about their knowledge of environmentally related programs on campus. There will also be an open forum for the NMU community on Sept. 17 from 3 – 5 p.m. in the Eerie Room of the University Center to discuss the survey results and to get more feedback.
According to Williams, if approved, the institute would hopefully support more research relating to the environment, encourage civil science within the Marquette community or help to organize a new undergraduate major.
“Right now, it’s kind of a blank slate,” Williams said. “It could really do anything . We’re willing to think as large as people are willing to be excited about.”
Both Leonard and Williams agree that one of the only main concerns brought up by students and faculty is where the money would come from to implement such a program.
“NMU is very supportive of this idea, but we’re also realistic,” said Williams. “We will have to get some grant funding to keep this going long-term, and those details remain to be worked out.”
According to Leonard, this initiative, as well as the environment as a whole, is extremely important to students for a number of reasons.
“Many of our students have an interest in environmental affairs, and they cite that as a reason they come up to the U.P. for school,” said Leonard, “On a broader scale, environmental awareness and sustainability are very hot topics right now in the job market . this institute could help link students with programs that could really help them in the future.”
If implemented, the program could begin within a year, but, according to Williams, the project would always be able to change to suit student’s needs.
Although at this time the project is simply gauging student and faculty interest, according to both professors, most people seem to be responding favorably.
“Most people we talk to are really positive. They want to move forward, especially the faculty,” said Williams. “What we’re really missing right now is student input.”
It was calculated that only around 10 percent of the student body responded to the survey sent out electronically, with a higher percent of faculty replying.
“If the students come up with a great idea we’d love to get that going,” Williams said. “Without student support, it’s probably not going to get anywhere.”