The Dernogalizer

November 29, 2010

Column: Building a green campus

Congratulations to Sam Rivers for getting his Op-Ed published in the Diamondback.  Sam is a new member of the University of Maryland Student group UMD for Clean Energy, and he stepped right in by writing a column to the student newspaper about the need for the massive East Campus redevelopment project to be an ambitious green development.  Back when I was Campaign Director of the group as a senior last spring, we organized a successful event that put pressure on the university to stipulate in its RFP (request for proposal) that sustainable development was a top priority, and had to be one for any prospective developer.  Some  members of  the group met with The Cordish Companies'(the selected developer) development director and their design team last month to discuss students demands for a cutting edge green development, and listen to what the design team was planning.

UMD for Clean Energy at the Cordish Companies Headquarters

Now with the developer’s first public forum set for tomorrow, the group is looking to generate student and community support for rebuilding downtown College Park into a sustainable community that others can look to.  Below is Sam’s column discussing East Campus and this forum.

Guest column: Building a green campus

Last Monday, I attended my first UMD for Clean Energy meeting. The group’s purpose is to advocate for sustainability on and around the campus. As an environmental science and policy major, I had been wanting to check it out.

Discussion focused on East Campus, a proposed development to be built across Route 1 by the university in partnership with The Cordish Companies. To my surprise, I learned the development is not just one new dorm but an entire community spanning from Fraternity Row to Paint Branch Parkway — an area about six times the size of McKeldin Mall. This vast expanse will include student housing, restaurants and retail space. Furthermore, completing the project will require ripping out multiple existing buildings.

In 2009, this university unveiled a Climate Action Plan, a document that commits the university to carbon neutrality by 2050. East Campus will be included in the university’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory, and the East Campus buildings will last for decades. To have any hope of achieving the 2050 goal, the East Campus community must be built with sustainability in mind.

What would the university and The Cordish Companies have to do to build sustainably? To begin, East Campus should have walking and biking paths and must be connected to the rest of the campus by quick and reliable bus routes. There should be sufficient green space for rainwater to sink into the soil so that runoff does not pollute waterways.

Constructing rooftop gardens and building paths with water-permeable pavement could be important components of this more natural stormwater management system. Most importantly, buildings must be constructed with sustainable materials and be energy efficient. The university currently requires new buildings to earn a Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design Silver certification — the third highest ranking in a commonly accepted ranking system for green construction. But building to LEED Gold standards would affirm the university as a nationwide leader in sustainable development and move us one step closer to carbon neutrality.

The campus’s Climate Action Plan requires reducing waste and pushing the envelope on energy efficiency. But this will not happen without student involvement. So here’s where you come in: Tomorrow there will be a forum in Ritchie Coliseum from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., when the East Campus project will be put up for public commentary. The Coliseum is easily accessible by taking the Shuttle-UM Blue route bus or crossing Route 1 at The Dairy. The more people who  come to ask questions about this development’s environmental impact, the more seriously sustainability will factor into construction. You can also sign the petition for a greener East Campus at Maps of the proposed site, a flyer for the forum, East Campus’ history and more can be found at

Sam Rivers is a freshman environmental science and policy major. He can be reached at brivers at umd dot edu.

November 15, 2010

Green leadership: A lesson for Loh

Filed under: University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 10:58 am
Tags: ,

I have a column out today in the Diamondback containing suggested sustainability initiatives for the University of Maryland’s new President Wallace Loh to undertake.  Unfortunately space limitations shortened the column substantially, below is the extended version.  The link I provided above goes to the published version.

As a member of the University of Maryland’s environmental community, I’m excited to see what steps our new President Wallace Loh will take to build on the progress made under Dan Mote.  In some ways, Loh has much to live up to.  During Mote’s tenure, the university took unprecedented steps in sustainability all the way from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to setting green building standards to increasing our recycling rate.  At the same time, many students and faculty I know felt Mote was more concerned about promoting a green image, regardless of whether that meant taking bold leadership.  Sometimes it did, but other times it meant hypocrisy.  Here are five initiatives Loh can lead on to blaze a new path for the university this decade that’s far greener than the last:

Green East Campus: The nearly billion dollar East Campus redevelopment project now being undertaken by the Cordish Company is an opportunity to revitalize downtown College Park and lead the way on green development.  Since East Campus is in its early planning stages, now is the time to make clear publicly what the university expects from Cordish.  We can set a new standard for green development that goes beyond our current LEED Silver building standard, traps 100% of storm water runoff to protect the Chesapeake Bay, promotes local business, and isn’t car centric.  Getting there is going to require leadership from Loh.

Support the Purple Line for Real: The Purple Line alignment has been an area where the university administration has butted heads with everyone else in the state!  The university has given a myriad of reasons why they favor more expensive and less efficient alignments, and none hold up under a scrutiny.  End the hypocrisy and support mass transit by supporting the Purple Line alignment that’s in competition for federal funding.

Put Solar On It: Although the university has begun to install a little solar such as on the South Campus Dining Hall, we aren’t being as aggressive with it as we should.  One possibility is to enter into a long-term purchase power agreement with a solar company.  Another suggestion is to analyze the recently purchased Washington Post Plant where the university will be relocating facilities for East Campus.  That plant has a huge roof.

Less Plastic: Although we’re doing a better job of recycling it, there’s way too much plastic being given out at this university.  Given that students can drink tap water from the university’s filter stations, there’s no reason we should have bottled water for sale on this campus.  Another problem is unnecessary plastic bags given out by cashiers in the university’s stores.  Students should have to ask for the plastic bags, and they should come with a five cent fee.

More Local and Healthy Food: There is strong support on the campus for the university to provide healthier food options to that have less of an environmental footprint.  Some possibilities for action are providing more vegetarian options, using cage-free eggs, growing some food on campus, and setting ambitious targets for increasing the percentage of food which comes from within a day’s driving distance.

Loh has enthusiastic partners all over campus working on sustainability issues.  If he can match that enthusiasm, and lead with us, we’ll all be successful.

September 20, 2010

Going for gold: The challenge of building green

My opinion column on the University of Maryland and green building is out today.   I’ve cross-posted it below, enjoy!

I want to congratulate the university and student activists for their recent major accomplishments on the sustainability front. The 2009 Campus Carbon Footprint Report of our campus emissions recently came out and found that in 2009, the carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 26,394 metric tons, a 10.5 percent reduction from 2005. This means that the university is on pace to meet its goal of a 15 percent reduction by 2012.

When former university President Dan Mote signed the President’s Climate Commitment — which committed this campus to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 — there was legitimate skepticism of how serious the administration would be in living up to their pledge. And although there have been some hiccups, since signing the commitment, the university has renovated buildings to make them more energy efficient, installed some solar panels around the campus and reduced solid waste emissions by 70 percent.

Just the other day, The Diamondback reported that Knight Hall became the first university-owned building to be certified with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold rating, the second best LEED standard a building can obtain. Oakland Hall is likely to follow with a LEED-gold rating. What made these accomplishments even more impressive was the fact that the university’s existing green building standard — which was set in 2008 — is for all new campus buildings to be LEED-silver.

The university is setting a good precedent by going above its green building standard. Why? It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also isn’t significantly more expensive to build a legitimately low-impact structure than a lousy building. The real impact is on the energy savings the university receives for the next 50 years the building stands.

Here’s my message and challenge to the university administration. As much fun as it is to criticize you when you do something wrong, you deserve praise for getting emissions and these two buildings right. But there is still so much more to do.

The university’s Facilities Master Plan calls for the construction of 40 new buildings. With this ambitious plan there are a lot of environmental issues to resolve, many of which deal with both the preservation of green space and the environmental impact of each building. The campus power plant and our purchased electricity made up 64 percent of campus carbon dioxide emissions in 2009. A major challenge to the university continuing to make progress on its Climate Action Plan is how they add these buildings and keep emissions down.

Part of the answer means the university can’t just meet the existing campus standard of LEED-silver. New buildings will have to go above and beyond. Based off what we’ve seen from Knight Hall and Oakland Hall, why not?

The university has a committee updating its existing Facilities Master Plan, chaired by Facilities Management Director Frank Brewer. The final draft is expected to be finished by next June. If Brewer wants to keep the university on the right path, he needs to push the envelope and propose to upgrade the university’s green building standards for new construction. In an interview with the College Park Patch about the plan, Brewer stated he wanted to see the campus become carbon neutral by 2050. “It’s a pretty bold statement, but that’s the goal,” Brewer said. Let’s back up that statement with action. Be bold, and go for gold.

Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

May 27, 2010

UMD Demands “Clean Energy Now!” at Commencement

On May 20th, University of Maryland students participated in the national day of action “Crude Awakening” to mark the one-month anniversary of the offshore drilling disaster.  More importantly, it was to call attention to the fact that we have a morally bankrupt energy system based on fossil fuels that needs to be replaced through an aggressive transition to clean energy, NOW!

Our action involved 15 of us pinning a letter to each of our caps at our senior graduation, along with a couple of people with nothing on their hats representing spaces.  We spelled out “Clean Energy Now!” for the crowd of students, families, and faculty that watched the ceremony from overhead.  As you can see from the pictures, it’s hard to capture an angle at a split second where the entire message can be seen, but message could definitely be seen from the crowd.  Family members who were unaware that I was doing this action texted me during the ceremony asking if I was wearing one of the “Clean Energy Now!” hats.  I suppose I’m predictable here…

Afterwards, another group of us help up some of the letters to spell out “Clean Energy”

All in all, I think think this was a very creative action, and I want to congratulate fellow student and committed climate activist Danny Berchenko for coming up with this idea, organizing us, and providing these photos from a friend.

I also want to say that at least for me, and hopefully for other youth activists around the country who are graduating and going through a transitional period towards full time jobs (or for me graduate school) is that regardless of whether I’m a leader of a student group, in college, or at a job, I will always be in this fight to stop catastrophic climate change, eliminate fossil fuels, and make right the environmental injustices of the world.  As I move on from this part of my life and my role in this movement evolves with it, I’m not stopping.  With one and a half feet out the undergraduate door, this was my message as I left behind a lot of fond memories and tough fights for what I believe in, and looked forward to many more.

Tell Congress and President Obama not to stop until we have CLEAN ENERGY NOW!

May 11, 2010

The Gravity of Writing

Filed under: Dernoga,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:53 pm
Tags: , ,

I had my last op-ed of the year out today, and possibly my last with the Diamondback.  I have to decide soon whether or not to try and keep doing this while in graduate school.  I thought it would be good to reminisce about how I started writing columns, and what the experience has done for me.  Enjoy!

Dernoga: The gravity of writing

By Matt Dernoga

Back in March 2008, I wrote a joke guest column titled “Gravity is a Hoax!” that imitated a stereotypical global warming denier by arguing against the existence of gravity with ludicrous assertions. This prompted The Diamondback’s opinion editor at the time to offer me a columnist position with the stipulation I would write about environmental issues.

I was going to turn down the offer because I was afraid I wouldn’t consistently have good material to write about. Then, I got an e-mail from a man in Denmark who had stumbled across my column on “gravity” and seriously thought I was denying the existence of gravity. He apparently agreed and presented me with a host of links he had found proving gravity was, in fact, a hoax.

I had to politely tell him that I was actually referring to global warming in the column (which should have been obvious). In his response, he said global warming hadn’t crossed his mind while reading since it wasn’t a debate in Europe. He was flabbergasted that a sizable percentage of Americans actually thought it was an elaborate hoax (but apparently gravity was fair game). Though I’m probably not going to go to this guy for my physics homework, it struck me at the time that my column wasn’t the joke — we were.

Most people, including activists, just don’t know a lot about environmental issues, and in many ways, it’s the media’s fault. There isn’t much written in newspapers about those issues, and when they do get attention, they’re reduced to sound bites and straw man arguments. Usually, it’s “protecting the environment will hurt the economy” in a thousand different forms.

So I took the columnist position. I’ve found it to be one of the best uses of my time here as an undergraduate. By researching the intricacies of environmental issues I often knew little about, I learned how to frame them in ways both the reader and I could understand. As an environmental activist, writing these columns challenged me to actually investigate hot topics beyond the surface. I found this made me a more capable advocate for my issues because I could weave different aspects and angles of an argument together to make a strong case.

I’m grateful for the number of people who have e-mailed me with kind words about my columns and even suggested topics to write about. Sure, it’s The Diamondback, and we tend to think the appeal of content in this paper is limited to our university bubble, but there aren’t many reporters or columnists in this state who competently write about green issues on a regular basis. As a result, I received outstanding support and column ideas from people around the state. Almost half of my column topics were actually ideas or issues brought to my attention by others. Instead of struggling to write original material, I struggled with deciding which topic to go with each week.

My time as an undergraduate is drawing to a close. Depending on what I decide to do in graduate school, this may be my last column. Either way, getting my message across to you every week has been a fun and rewarding part of my college experience. I hope you learned as much as I did. More importantly, I hope you use it. Thank you.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

May 5, 2010

University of Maryland’s Summer Transit Experiment Makes No Sense

Filed under: transportation,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:48 pm
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I attended a student forum with members of the University of Maryland’s administration regarding plans for a pilot test this summer where our main road “Campus Drive” will be closed to both passenger vehicles and transit minus emergency vehicles and a couple of campus connector Shuttle-UM buses.  If the pilot is successful, this transit idea could become a mainstay in a couple of years.

Closing Campus Drive to cars is a fine idea in my view, but only because that would allow the buses to get around quicker.  As someone who has missed a Shuttle-UM bus on its way to our metro station 1.5 miles away, and then beaten it on my legs to the station, our buses would greatly benefit from less traffic on Campus Drive.  I could see mobility for students around campus and around College Park significantly improving if we closed off Campus Drive to cars, but allowed buses.  It would also shorten travel times for the Metro buses that pass through the heart of campus.

I just don’t under stand how banning both buses and cars improves at all on the situation.  Before they were both clogging up campus drive, now they’re both going to clog some side roads on the outside of campus.  All we’ve done is abandoned transit at the center of campus, which not only sucks in the near-term, but probably jeopardizes the likelihood of the Purple Line using the Campus Drive alignment if the road ends up being permanently closed after this pilot.

The funny thing is, all that this forum convinced me is the administrators don’t understand what this does either, or why they’re doing it.  At least, they wouldn’t admit to us why they were actually doing it.  Most of students questions were answered in five words or less, involve some combination of the words “i don’t know” and “okay”.  It was like they weren’t even trying to manage this from a PR perspective, which is unusual for them.

Here is a Diamondback article about the event, and the Washington Post has an article out on the issue today.  This excerpt from the Diamondback piece says it all…

Jesse Yurow, a junior environmental science and policy major, said the program doesn’t fit in with two key passages in the plan: “maximize use of alternatives to driving to campus” and “improve the campus’s integration into the regional transit system network.

Brewer’s response?

“OK,” he said.

April 26, 2010

US Senator Ben Cardin Speaks with UMD Students about Federal Climate Legislation

This past Friday, UMD for Clean Energy hosted US Senator Ben Cardin at the University of Maryland for a Clean Energy Town Hall.  It went pretty well, we had a good turnout, I counted 70-80 attendees  at the event, tough and smart questions, and a good speech by Cardin about the need for the US to act.  While there was some disagreement with the Senator over the merits of nuclear power, common ground was largely found on the rest of his articulated positions, particularly over the need to not have offshore drilling of the coast of Maryland, which would threaten the Chesapeake Bay.  Cardin expressed appreciation for the leadership efforts of students at the university, and the strong showing of support for US leadership on climate.  He said he can go back to DC and point to examples like us to his colleagues as reasons why our country has no excuse not to act.

Below is the article in The Diamondback about the event (it called nuclear power renewable, I will ask for a correction), as well as a video UMD for Clean Energy made.  We showed it to Senator Cardin at the start of the town hall.  What’s impressive about this video is that none of these statements by students were scripted.  This highlights how knowledgeable and engaged students at UMD are on this issue.

Cardin pushes for clean energy legislation

By Leyla Korkut

An upcoming federal bill aimed at tackling the country’s numerous environmental issues should enable the country to make progress toward clean, renewable energy by offering reforms such as protecting the Chesapeake Bay from offshore drilling, Sen. Ben Cardin told a group of students Friday.

Cardin (D-Md.) spoke to a few dozen students in the Stamp Student Union’s Benjamin Banneker Room at a town hall forum sponsored by UMD for Clean Energy. The event was designed to give students a chance to question the senator about upcoming environmental legislation.

One climate bill in particular — which has already passed the House of Representatives — may come before Cardin and his colleagues in the Senate within the next week, he said.

Cardin said he hopes this bill will protect the Chesapeake Bay from offshore drilling, institute cap-and-trade policies and invest in renewable forms of energy, which are issues Cardin said should be tackled now — strengthening what he called a watered-down bill passed by the House.

“Environmental issues are mainstream America. It’s a popular issue,” Cardin said. “As a result, we’ve been able to pass some far-reaching bills — all have been passed with the last 40 years. We’re trying to protect our environment, and now that [President Barack] Obama’s been elected, the Environmental Protection Agency is actually protecting the environment.”

However, Cardin argued citizens of the state should not take this opportunity for granted because the Chesapeake Bay is constantly at risk for pollution.

“The problem today is our great water bodies are being polluted, and they’re very difficult to clean up,” Cardin said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure it’s there for future generations.”

Cardin said one of the primary ways to preserve the Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water is to create an energy policy that will rely less on polluting fossil fuels — including oil, particularly from foreign sources — and more on renewable sources of energy, such as nuclear, solar and wind energy.

“We can argue energy policy based on national security,” Cardin said. “We spend a billion dollars a day importing oil; we’re financing people who’d like to see us go away. The only way we can become energy independent is to develop renewable sources. We know that we have to do much better on an energy policy that relies on renewable energy sources.”

Cardin also described a proposal to create a national cap-and-trade system, in which each company would be allocated an amount of pollutants its operations may emit and a company with minimal pollution could sell its allocation to one that is less eco-friendly. Cardin’s proposal would remove a set price for carbon emissions, letting the market decide the value of carbon pollution.

Students at the forum largely agreed with Cardin’s policy proposals, but junior environmental science and policy major Cara Miller said she was not completely convinced nuclear energy was worth investing in considering nuclear waste’s potential danger.

“I came in on the fence about the issue,” she said, “and he didn’t sway me one way or the other.”

Senior government and politics major Matt Dernoga, a Diamondback columnist and UMD for Clean Energy’s campaign director, said that among the numerous issues that Cardin hopes to tackle, the most important was ensuring federal standards would not prevent this state from excelling in its environmental goals.

Cardin told students Friday that he was especially optimistic about the climate bill given how much the university has improved its sustainability practices in recent years.

“I’m convinced we’ll pass a global energy climate bill,” he said. “We’re going to be able to pass those goals. I’m more optimistic today knowing what you’re doing at the University of Maryland. If UMD can do it as a campus, there’s no reason why industry can’t do it.”

Image Credit: Charlie DeBoyace, Diamondback

April 20, 2010

Op-Ed “Energy legislation: Time to clean up”

I have an Op-Ed column in my school’s college newspaper: The Diamondback.  It summarizes some of the main reasons why we need to pass climate legislation, mentions the release of climate legislation in the Senate, and alerts students of a Clean Energy Town Hall with US Senator Ben Cardin that my group UMD for Clean Energy is holding this upcoming Friday.  If you’re in Maryland, you should come.

Energy legislation: Time to clean up

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are scheduled to release their long-awaited comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation to the U.S. Senate on April 26. This will begin the most important environmental debate of our time: whether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.

But regardless of whether you consider yourself an environmentalist, the benefits of addressing our carbon pollution are so vast there’s something appealing for everyone —  except for the oil and coal companies. Here are some of the reasons why we must act:

Job creation will be spurred by protecting us from carbon pollution. Companies in the private sector will find it more economically beneficial to invest in clean and renewable sources of energy. The infrastructure that comes along with building wind and solar farms such as a modern electric grid will drive even more job creation. Existing buildings and homes will be retrofitted by their owners to reduce energy costs. For every $150 billion invested in clean energy, 1.7 million new jobs will be created.

The science is irrefutable. Of the climate scientists actively publishing climate papers, 97.5 percent endorse the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. The average ice mass and volume of the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica have rapidly declined since the middle of the 20th century. The past decade was the warmest on record. If we take all of the carbon dioxide stored underground and release it into the atmosphere, we will have a different planet.

Our health is damaged by the pollution from burning fossil fuels. Reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn will improve our quality of life and reduce our health care costs. Health issues correlated with fossil fuel burning include asthma, lung disease, lung cancer, elevated mercury levels and cardiovascular disease. Between 317,000 and 631,000 children are born in the United States each year with blood mercury levels high enough to reduce IQ scores and cause lifelong loss of intelligence.

Our national security will be strengthened. Despite talk about the need to reduce our oil dependence, we are still paying foreign countries hundreds of billions of dollars a year to send us oil. By regulating carbon pollution, we’ll be incentivizing fuel efficient cars and accelerating toward battery-powered vehicles. A recent study found reducing our emissions 80 percent by 2050 would cut Iran’s revenues from oil by more than $100 million a day and $1.8 trillion by 2050.

The world is watching us with bated breath. Negotiations among nations to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions have slowed to a snail’s crawl since the Copenhagen summit last December. Until we’ve got a piece of legislation passed to fuel these talks by placing a declining cap on emissions and with funding to prevent deforestation, adaptation and mitigation assistance, no one is convinced the United States is actually at the table.

On Friday, there’s a Clean Energy Town Hall with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at 2 p.m. in Stamp Student Union’s Benjamin Banneker Room. It’s conveniently the day after Earth Day and right before the climate legislation is set to be introduced, so you should come. If you’re still unimpressed, Friday is also William Shakespeare’s birthday — and John Cena’s. There, that should cover everyone. It has to.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

April 14, 2010

Diamondback Staff Editorial: Support Ecohouse

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 1:21 am
Tags: , ,

There was unfortunate news yesterday that the university was cutting its Ecohouse program, which was a sustainable living and learning program for students.  The Diamondback’s Staff Editorial today makes a solid case for the university to place greater priority on making Ecohouse work.  I’m posting it below.

Staff editorial: Betting on the House

In the midst of budget cuts, furloughs, class eliminations, resource reallocations and department mergers, it might seem that shutting down EcoHouse — a living and learning program based in New Leonardtown that educates students on sustainable living — is just another unavoidable cut.

But when a university has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2050, prioritizes erecting LEED-certified buildings and boasts being open to green initiatives, it seems counterproductive and hypocritical to cut one of the few programs that teaches students how to live sustainably and reduce their personal carbon footprint.

In some ways, the program was doomed from the start. It fell under both the agriculture and natural resources school and the Resident Life Department, and neither had the ultimate responsibility to fund, promote or support the program. EcoHouse officials said the majority of their advertising was online-only. They sent out e-mails and ran a website, but did not have the time or resources to go speak to students in classrooms, at environmental student group meetings or at Resident Life housing meetings. This means EcoHouse was missing crucial elements necessary for success: effective marketing, a constant source of funding and institutional support. It wasn’t just low enrollment that caused the program to retreat into hibernation.

That doesn’t excuse students from blame. The program has enrolled 63 students during the past three years — well below the 75 students per year most university living and learning programs host. And it’s hard to justify maintaining a program that doesn’t have high student interest.

Dean for Undergraduate Studies Donna Hamilton, who also serves as chairwoman of the committee that oversees living and learning programs, said resources are allocated based on perceived student interest. And when resources are slim, it’s tough to keep programs open when they just aren’t attracting enough students.

“Low-enrollment programs are difficult to support,” Hamilton said. “Otherwise, we have students coming to us with things that they want, and we can’t fund them.”

Typically, living and learning programs start slowly. Hamilton noted that College Park Scholars, which now boasts 14 programs with enrollment of about 75 students each, started off much smaller, with only four programs and far fewer students. EcoHouse wasn’t unique in its inability to spur rapid growth. It was just never given a fighting chance.

As far as student interest is concerned, the students who lived in the New Leonardtown community said they got a lot out of the experience: They tended a community garden and took EcoHouse classes on building sustainable communities. The take-away lessons of the EcoHouse are life-long. Students are taught to rethink the way they use water, re-evaluate the merits of buying locally produced or organic food, encouraged to experiment with different dietary options such as vegetarianism or veganism, inspired to ditch their cars for bikes and reminded how much energy can be saved by simply turning off the lights or lowering the thermostat.

EcoHouse won’t be reinstated without university support. Although the program may have to jump through hoops to come back, the university shouldn’t make it. Administrators should be offering solutions, options and resources to reinstate EcoHouse and should then ensure the program is getting the student exposure it needs.

If the university is serious about reducing its environmental impact, teaching students the basics of sustainable living is a good place to start.

April 13, 2010

Column on SGA Leadership

Filed under: University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 1:58 am
Tags: ,

This column is a little outside the norm.  It’s not explicitly environmental, and it’s the first time I’ve written about the SGA in about a year.  But it’s good to mix it up some, so enjoy this one.

Glickman: Credit where it’s due

Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement for the upcoming Student Government Association elections — just bad timing. As I write this, I have no clue who I’m voting for.

I was intrigued to read Rich Abdill’s guest column “System Error” last Tuesday in which he lambasted the SGA — particularly President Steve Glickman — for getting nothing done.

A lot of what Abdill writes about the ineffectiveness of the SGA and its flawed structure is spot on. What I take issue with is his criticism of the SGA president for taking some credit for some of the activities SGA members and student groups have undertaken. I don’t think Abdill understands what being the leader of the university’s largest student organization entails. Your job isn’t to be the point man on everything; it’s to work with other leaders to get things done.

I’m the campaign director of an environmental activist group at the university called UMD for Clean Energy — basically a co-president. Let me tell you something that a lot of leaders of student groups will nod their heads to: managing an organization is a pain in the ass sometimes.

My organization works on one issue area. I work with a media director, an outreach director, a political liaison, a membership director, an organizational director, a webmaster and all our members. I’ve gotten to know almost everyone’s tasks just as well as the office holders and work with each of them to help execute our roles in sync with our goals. Credit for our successes is shared.

I’ve seen other groups get partial or full credit for our accomplishments, including the SGA. But I can’t complain too much. My organization has been praised many times for saving the Wooded Hillock when it was the SGA’s Sustainability Committee. Some Diamondback articles have made it seem as if my group invented the innovative idea of a clean energy loan fund for College Park, when we, well, borrowed that idea from other municipalities.

The reality is that as a leader of a student group, I’ve been praised for doing things I didn’t do, ignored for things I did do and criticized for both. It comes with the territory.

Glickman has it tougher: He works on many issue areas at once. He has to manage a whole cabinet full of people waiting to screw up or act lazy and put up with 40-plus legislators trying to pull the SGA in directions that he may not agree with. If there’s a setback, he takes some blame, as Abdill alludes to with Cordell Black’s failed reinstatement. If there’s a win, such as the Board of Regents not infringing on our free speech last fall, he should get some of the praise even if he was loosely involved. It balances out.

The real sign of a good leader isn’t worrying too much about how many wins versus losses people recognize him or her for. It’s drowning out that noise, putting his or her head down and working hard for his or her members, win or lose.

Glickman’s membership is the entire student body. Based on how many times I’ve seen him go in and out of the SGA office from my couch in Stamp Student Union’s Student Involvement Suite and advocate with student activists on a wide spectrum of university issues, he deserves a little bit of credit.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

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