Ideas Churn at WAHESC Conference 2017

Two vans full of 13 students, six staff, and one faculty member from Seattle Colleges crested over Snoqualmie Pass through rain and fog to safely arrive in Spokane on Wednesday February 15 for the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Coalition’s (WAHESC) 2017 conference at Gonzaga University. The WAHESC Conference is a “regionally focused opportunity for those teaching, working, or studying within higher education to come together and learn about sustainability in academics, operations, and research” (WAHESC Conference,

Over 200 students, 400 attendees and nearly 100 speakers contributed to the advancement of sustainability in higher education over two days. The time was packed with presentations, time with exhibitors, networking, team building, a few moments of relaxation and reflection, and some great sustainable and locally-sourced food (noted by several of us). While the experience was positive for staff and faculty, the students especially gained valuable content knowledge, contacts, future internship and job opportunities, and time to bond with one another―dreaming up how they were going to take what they learned at the conference back to improve sustainability on their campus. Here are some examples of their experiences in their own words.

When asked if they would recommend this conference to students next year:

  • “Most definitely! This was an absolutely incredible conference: really well organized, a fantastic diversity of campuses and those involved on campus (from students to faculty to utilities and beyond), great food and booths, a wonderful array of speakers and seminars, and an absolute abundance of connections!”- Gary Foresman
  • “Definitely. I’ve been through several conferences with various themes, student activism, student leadership, etc., but out of all the conferences that I’ve attended this one was the best. I couldn’t believe that for the first time ever a conference really practiced what it preached. I really appreciated that we didn’t have paper cups, or plastic bottles, or anything wasteful. I appreciated that the name-tags were around our necks were recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable.”- Zari Akkuly
  • “Yes 10/10, because it was very inspiring and I learned a lot about ways I can play a bigger part in the field of sustainability. It also taught me more about myself, which is really important for helping others learn about themselves.”- Lauren Gleim
  • “Yes, definitely. Great way to network and hear what other schools are doing in regards to sustainability. Was given several faculty member cards, and others in our group received contact info from students at other colleges. Most of the student group I was with is focusing on a couple sustainability related projects right now, and we received guidance and suggestions from many different avenues.”- Helen Ganahl
  • “Yes, I would recommend this conference to students in the future; the conference was a valuable setting for us students to make contacts with other students and representatives from other institutions, learn about what other students are doing at their schools, and gain inspiration to bring back to our own projects and activities.”- Masra Clamoungou
  • “I would recommend this conference to students next year because it was very relevant to the work we’re doing right now on the Sustainability Board. It allowed us to connect and learn from other students/staff/faculty from colleges with similar projects and get new ideas for future projects. I liked that the conference had a significant amount of students. It was great to be in a setting with so many people who are aware and actively working on environmental justice issues.”- Jasmine Taylor

When asked about their most memorable conference session:

  • Intersections of Social and Environmental Justice: Engagement and Activism – This presentation stood out to me and others because it was one presentation that did discuss some of the social aspects of the sustainability movement that don’t usually get as much attention compared to general environmental sustainability. Another reason why this presentation stood out was the effect it had on some of my fellow attendees; the information in one presentation about the conditions of much conventional chocolate production prompted a couple students to engage one of the conference sponsors about a large bowl of chocolate candy they had on their table.”- Masra Clamoungou
  • Effecting Sustainability Beyond Universities: Resilient Communities- This year I’ve become very interested in community engagement strategies and this session gave me an understanding of how colleges can integrate sustainability initiatives into student learning opportunities that are collaborative with their immediate community. It also provided an opportunity to meet one of the professors and some of the students in the UW Community Environment and Planning Program that I have applied to. This sessions benefited me personally, professionally and academically.”- Christoph Strouse
  • Student Leadership in Achieving Sustainability Success led by actual student leaders across the state who shared valuable tangible projects and tactics they are using at their schools to get students more involved in sustainability.”- Lauren Gleim
  • Effecting Sustainability Beyond Universities: Resilient Communities really resonated with me and how I want to see colleges becoming a greater influence both in their neighborhood and the city it resides in. Learning about the Epic-N group was really inspiring in how to coordinate campus and city staff to create amazing, interactive, and influential classes for students that make active change. Warming Centers on campus for the homeless during below freezing temperature sounds like a necessity as well.”- Gary Foresman
  • Creating a Culture of Reuse and Waste Reduction was a good one as it focused on small scale institutional culture changes that can be hard to affect. Gwen Larned was quite inspiring- she brought in a tiny mason jar of all her trash for the month- zero waste coordinator leading by example.”- Helen Ganahl
  • “The most memorable conference session was definitely Intersections of Social and Environmental Justice: Engagement and Activism, especially when Arlene Plevin started speaking. She was telling a very powerful story about modern day slavery, and how millions of people around the world slave away just so people like me could live a comfortable life. I appreciated that she didn’t hold back or try to coddle the audience so we wouldn’t feel guilty, but she also offered ways we could individually contribute to abolition of modern-day slavery.”- Zari Akkuly
  • “Keynote speech by Dr. Mitch Thomashow- what a way to start the show. His speech was inspirational and captivating. It gave me some insights into sustainability field and made me realize that sustainability is a way of life, it presents itself in every aspect of life. I am always interested in design and art- his speech had me inspired to explore sustainable art and design.”- Thea Diep Ton

When asked for general comments about their experience:

  • “I am extremely thankful for this experience and I hope other students will be able to enjoy it!”- Rebecca Barbanell
  • “While WAHESC cheered the amount of progress made on sustainability in the institutional realm, and the cultural ripple effect that has, its speakers didn’t shrink from acknowledging the massive amount of work still to be done. Who better to spearhead and champion the work of social change and critical thinking than institutions of higher learning? I hope WAHESC grows and grows each year, until no one campus can contain it.”- Helen Ganahl
  • “I feel completely blessed that Seattle Colleges helped me make it to WAHESC this year. It gave me so many opportunities that I would not have been able to access if it weren’t for being able to meet my fellow district affiliates and go learn from very experienced campus students and staff about how we can improve both our campuses and communities with a focus on sustainability and education!”- Gary Foresman
  • “WAHESC gave us an opportunity to learn from students on other campuses, to develop and hone our ideas related to campus sustainability, and have a good time throughout.”- Masra Clamoungou
  • “The conference was such a wonderful learning experience. We were so fortunate and thankful to have everything covered. A big shout out to Student leadership to make it happen.”- Thea Diep Ton
  • “What I appreciated most was how honest everybody who spoke at the conference was about their efforts in trying to make their campuses and businesses more sustainable and ethical towards human rights.”- Zari Akkuly

Here is a list of all Seattle Colleges’ attendees:

North Seattle College

  1. Tim Albertson, Sustainability Coordinator
  2. Rebecca Barbanell, student, Student Leadership
  3. Lauren Gleim, student, Student Leadership
  4. Christoph Strouse, student, Student Leadership
  5. Jasmine Taylor, student, Student Leadership
  6. Diep Ton, student, Student Leadership

Seattle Central College

  1. Leila Blair, student, co-chair of Sustainability Council
  2. Helen Ganahl, student, member of Sustainability Council
  3. Masra Clamoungou, student, member of Sustainable Agriculture Club
  4. Rowan Lang, student, member of Sustainable Agriculture Club
  5. Nura Ibrahim, student, member of Sustainable Agriculture Club
  6. Felipe Perez, student
  7. Alexis Fein, Administrative Assistant for Allied Health

South Seattle College

  1. Christa Colouzis, EHS and Sustainability Coordinator
  2. Monica Lundberg, Student Programs Manager
  3. Zari Akkuly, student
  4. Gary Foresman, student
  5. Vicky Hardy, Lead Faculty of B.A.S. of Sustainable Business Science Technology
  6. Alison Pugh, NSF Grant Director

Seattle Colleges- District

  • Adam Maurer, District Sustainability Coordinator