On the Rise – Michigan State students focus on environmental sustainability

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Michigan State University has one of the top five campuses in the nation for sustainability according to the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Environment 2008 Report Card. Michigan State is also well-known for its sustainability programs. One of these programs is Bailey Hall’s own RISE program, or the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment. Established in 1995, the RISE program is a part of the Department of Community Sustainability and is primarily for first and second year students interested in sustainability for the environment.

The RISE program is designed to give students a minor in environmental sustainability. The program is like many of the other residential colleges, where students live in one residence hall. Students in the RISE program reside in Bailey Hall, part of Brody complex. Most students elect to join the RISE program as an incoming freshman, but some join as sophomores. Students have peer mentors, are provided with in-house tutoring for subjects like chemistry and math and live with other students who share their passion for the environment. The program is designed to help students interact with each other and the faculty, as well as ease the transition from high school to college life.

Director Laurie Thorp says the unique part about the program is that students come from all majors. “It’s interdisciplinary which really makes it unique. It’s students from professional writing, zoology, chemistry, advertising and the College of Business all coming together with an interest in sustainability.” Thorp says the program seeks to teach students how to improve the environment for generations to come, and the students seem to agree. David Urich, a freshman in the program, says that “the RISE community has not only taught me what it means to be a steward of the environment, but what it means to work collectively to improve the earth for generations.”

As part of the program, students are required to take a first year seminar together. Thorp says that the seminar helps first-year students feel more comfortable with their professors and gives them a chance to get one-on-one attention outside of class. She says that the RISE offices are purposely located in Bailey in order to help develop the sense of community. “Students study in the common area outside of our office. They walk past here, and usually they’ll drop in and see me or my assistant director. It helps students begin to interact with faculty members.”

Thorp says that the program tries to involve its students as much as possible. During their first year seminar, students are walked through grant writing, and at the end of the semester, they present their proposal to donors. This year, five of the 22 grants proposed were funded, leading to a new partnership with Spartan Innovations, who funded four of the project proposals. If the students receive the grant, they implement it. This is the third year that the program has been instructing its students in grant proposals.

Junior Liz Brajevich was one of the first students to receive funding for her proposal. She says that the RISE program encouraged her to step forward as a leader during her freshman year. She proposed composting food from the Brody Square cafeteria in the Bailey Greenhouse. “Laurie Thorp and Matt Raven helped us edit our proposal and we were funded $5,000. Since then, we have turned over 1,000 pounds of Brody Cafeteria food scraps into fertilizer using red wriggler worms!”

Students can also get involved with the Bailey Greenhouse and Urban Farm, which is located directly outside of Bailey Hall. Karlo Zadro, a junior in the program, says that “students learn environmental stewardship through actively participating in the Bailey Greenhouse closed loop farming system.” Zadro stated that students run the greenhouse as a business and sell the produce to the Kellogg Center and the Brody Cafeteria. The products include salad greens, herbal teas and many other herbs. Students can volunteer to work for the greenhouse through the RISE program. Right now, students are growing herbs and harvesting them to make their own brand of herbal teas to sell. The RISE program also has workshops every other Friday where students can learn about cooking and eating green.

Thorp strongly believes that the RISE program is like no other at Michigan State. “We are a very close-knit community of students and staff that share values around environmental sustainability. We’re engaged, we’re out there getting our hands dirty and working on a bunch of different projects. We’re all about experiential learning. If you want to get out there and do something instead of sitting and listening in a classroom, that’s what we’re all about.”


Brittney Urich is a senior professional writing major specializing in marketing and public relations. She is an avid traveler, sports enthusiast, and animal lover. When she’s not blogging or reading, she can usually be found outside.


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