I recently returned to university, almost 15 years after graduating. I'm seeking a second degree in teaching, from the same school where I obtained my first degree in engineering.
Being back on campus after an extended absence is an exercise in contrasts. On the one hand, many things are still the same. I'm attending class in the same lecture halls I sat in almost two decades ago, taking notes in the same sort of spiral notebook, and waiting in line in the same bathrooms during my breaks. Many of the classes themselves are the same as those offered during my first go-around, and I've recognized several of my old professors in the halls. The similarities are comforting to me, as they help ease me back into an academic routine.
Other things about being back at school are different. There are new seats in many of the lecture theatres, which is actually a welcome change as the old ones were highly uncomfortable. There are new computer systems to master and even some bright and shiny new buildings to learn my way around. It's also apparent to me that the university's commitment to being environmentally-friendly has grown during my absence.
Here are some of the ways that university has become a greener place to be in the past 15 years or so:
- Water bottle refill stations - You'll find these scattered all across campus, which is great as almost all students now carry reusable water bottles with them.
- Zero waste stations - Instead of 'garbage cans', you'll now find 'zero waste stations' around campus. Each station has four bins: paper recycling, other recycling, compostables and landfill. Landfill, in this case, means garbage.
- Local food - From late spring through October, you'll find a weekly pocket farmers' market on campus. There's also a campus harvest box, and you can order a weekly delivery of local produce.
- Community garden - There's a community garden on campus, as well as a learning garden where new gardeners grow, eat and share food.
- Fewer drivers - During my days as a young student, I didn't own a car. Several of my friends did, however, and I witnessed their struggles to find parking on campus. There was a long waiting list for parking, and many people weren't able to get spots. Today, however, even though the number of students has grown and the number of parking spaces hasn't, getting a campus parking pass is easy. While I drive these days because of my need to get home in a timely manner for my kids, it's heartening to me to see that more young people are opting to take transit.
- Less paper - While the transition to online content delivery is a little confusing to me, the result is that there's less paper being used overall. Instead of handouts, material is made available online and students read it electronically.
- More environmental dialogue - I'm seeing more classes, workshops, events and publications around environmental themes on campus than I did a decade and a half ago.