Indiana State University Newsroom

‘This is our home’: Student Eco-Reps teach peers about sustainability

September 11, 2015

A group of environmentally conscious Sycamores moved onto campus a week early to be trained in sustainability and cultivated as an educational force. The Eco-Reps program at Indiana State University is a new peer-to-peer initiative designed to increase sustainability awareness by coordinating events for their residence halls. The result, say organizers, is fellow Sycamores getting excited about easy, everyday sustainability practices.

Versions of the program boast a record of success on other campuses, including Pennsylvania State University, where Amanda Knerr, executive director of Residential Life at Indiana State, had personal experience with the initiative and its benefits before suggesting a reboot of the program here. She teamed up with the university's Institute for Community Sustainability, which attempted a similar program in 2012 but had difficulty getting established.

"It was something we've been interested in for a while, but not really able to do," said Caroline Savage, program director of the Institute for Community Sustainability. "When Amanda and Residential Life came in and were interested in making it happen, we were really able to make something new. To have someone who is the director of Res Life, who has that strong a commitment to sustainability, that is amazing."

Freshman communication major Cierra Venable wanted to kick-start her college experience by exploring different hobbies and becoming more involved. She noticed the call for Eco-Reps while signing up for housing and was immediately interested. It also helped that freshman fine arts major Brianna Hines, who Venable grew up with, also joined Eco-Reps.

"When I think of ‘eco'," said Venable, "I think of eco-friendly, green life, giving back to the community. In high school, all I ever did was dance, so I never had time to do anything else. I really just gravitated towards filling out (the application), because it seemed like a great leadership opportunity."

While most Sycamores were enjoying their final week of summer, the Eco-Reps received intensive sustainability training by Knerr, Savage and Jim Speer, professor in the department of earth and environmental systems. They also toured the recycling center, the community garden and other initiatives on campus. For completing their training, the students were rewarded with a sustainable dinner of pork chops and a "delicious" melon salad and other fresh produce grown in the community garden. They also learned about how to earn a certificate in sustainability.

Being the first generation of Eco-Reps also gives this group of students the ability to define the program and its mission for future generations, as well as for themselves. The students were asked what sustainability meant to them, and each student pledged to fulfill what they found most important.

"I pledged to recycle," Venable said, "and I always encourage my friends to recycle -- like, they know when they're around me to recycle, and they laugh, but they know I'm serious about it. I also pledged to hug a tree. When I say that, I mean be mindful of the environment and treat it well. Others made pledges to take the stairs instead of the elevators. Turn the lights off. They've given us ideas, but they've also let us incorporate what it means to us, which I think is important."

Venable says the Eco-Reps are tight-knit and would call each participant a friend. The students may be busy settling into the new school year, but they are already discussing a mid-September event, tentatively including recyclable crafts and water games, during their flexible, bi-weekly meetings. Students should not worry about committing to a group in addition to schoolwork responsibilities, Venable said, and encouraged the next generation of Eco-Reps to take advantage of the program next fall.

"This is our campus, this is our home. We're here for four years, and we should take care of it. That's our goal, really -- just peer-to-peer teaching, getting the word out, starting off with something simple like recycling, turning your lights off, turning your water off - little things like that can make a world of difference. And it's so easy!"


Photo: -- Amanda Knerr (Executive Director of Residential Life), Jim Speer (geology professor) posing with Fall 2015 eco-representatives on steps of the Institute for Community Sustainability. Cierra Venable is pictured front row, fourth from left.

Contacts: Caroline Savage, program director, Institute of Community Sustainability, or Amanda Knerr, executive director of Residential Life and Housing, or 812-237-3993

Writer: Kristen Kilker, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or