Major achievement

Chico State’s new sustainability minor boasts wide-ranging acceptance—and its first graduate

UP ON THE ROOF<br>Mike Bates (middle), Chico State’s manager of facilities services and energy, shows student Chris Earl (left) and Professor Tracy McDonald the solar array on Yolo Hall.

Mike Bates (middle), Chico State’s manager of facilities services and energy, shows student Chris Earl (left) and Professor Tracy McDonald the solar array on Yolo Hall.

Photo By Michele Bechard

Intercollegiate collaboration:
Butte College is developing curriculum and vocational programs for sustainability. According to its Web site, Butte has consulted with Chico State faculty members--as well as Chico Sustainability Group, North State Renewable Energy and New Urban Builders--regarding opportunities for collaborating. Both institutions belong to AASHE (the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education).

Tracy McDonald is changing the world, one college graduate at a time.

The vivacious business professor has gone against the grain and created a new minor at Chico State University: Managing for Sustainability. It is open to all majors, has no prerequisites, and is rapidly gaining momentum and popularity on campus. As McDonald says, “Everyone can use managerial skills, and sustainability is a concept that can be applied to any field.”

It was difficult at first to convince some of her colleagues that the new minor would fly, but with the support of Scott McNall, director of the university’s Institute for Sustainable Development, and several like-minded colleagues, the minor is now official and is graduating its first student this week.

Chris Earl is a business major who has been brainstorming ideas for years about creating a consulting business with sustainability as its agenda. By the time he heard about the new minor, he had already spent a semester in Costa Rica studying environmental literacy. He then discovered he had many of the minor’s required courses under his belt.

Earl devoted the better part of his last semester at Chico State to the remaining classes. In one of them, Managing Project Teams, he was asked to create a business model incorporating sustainability.

“This was something my cousin and I [had been] throwing around ideas and talking about … for several years, as I’ve been learning about sustainability concepts and just paying attention to the world, really,” said Earl, who is the first student to earn the minor. “It was nice to have someone edit the model and give feedback.”

McDonald initially worried the classes on sustainability would not fill; however, just a day after opening registration, there were no spots left. And, like Earl, the students who registered were bright, motivated people who were determined to make a difference.

“I’ve been teaching here since 1983,” confided McDonald, “and I have had the biggest, most inspiring year of my career. It’s the students that are making this happen.”

While sustainability is without a doubt a buzzword and the movement is gaining steam, opposition to sustainable practices exists.

“It’s that initial 5 percent that is the hardest to convince,” said Earl. “After that, however, you have momentum on your side.”

McDonald agreed, telling the story of how she took Earl and another student to a week-long entrepreneurial conference at UC Davis on green technology, where even among other “green” thinkers, their presentation was the only one that followed a nonprofit plan.

McDonald acknowledged that some large corporations, such as Starbucks and Safeway, are getting on board in terms of awareness of the need for sustainable practices.

One key concept she teaches is the importance of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit—in that order.

The ground is fertile for change, as more and more people are realizing the extent of the need to use renewable resources in all areas of life, especially business. This is key, as the majority of pollution comes from big corporations. This is where change needs to happen to affect the global picture, necessitating the involvement of people with many areas of expertise.

Fortunately, business majors are not the only ones taking advantage of the new minor. Marni Merrill, a biology student going into her senior year, said she embraced it after attending an Environmental Affairs Council meeting where it was introduced to students by Michael Marchetti, a professor in Chico State’s Biology Department. She hopes to use the minor to work as a biological consultant, citing increased credibility and upward mobility in the workforce as attributes that the coursework in the minor will give her.

“It is important to me to get a job where I will be in a position to make decisions that make a difference,” Merrill said.