The Post: SOUL class offered for the environment-conscious at OU

Environmental sustainability is a theme some Ohio University students and staff members say they are conscious of and connect with. Now students can continue these eco-minded discussions through Sustainable Ohio University Leaders, or SOUL.

SOUL is both a two-credit hour course for students — offered through OU’s Environmental Studies department — and a program for anyone at OU interested in the university’s environmental action plan. The class and program offer students opportunities to meet with university officials to devise solutions to sustainability challenges at OU, such as implementing active research.

Both the class and program meet every Wednesday in Baker 239.

“SOUL is a liaison group comprised of students, faculty and staff,” said Katie Lasco, a senior studying business and Implementation Manager at OU’s Office of Sustainability. “It’s the implementation arm of the sustainability and climate action plan.”

This group of environmental stewards met for the first time in January 2013, in direct response to President Roderick McDavis’ formal approval of the Climate Action Plan in November 2012. The plan’s most sweeping goal is for the university to become carbon neutral by 2075. 

A list of 35 benchmarks, included in OU’s Sustainability Plan, looks to change how OU interacts with the environment. Those benchmarks are addressed at the SOUL meetings through four themes: energy efficiency, waste and reduction, outreach and education and built environments.

The meetings analyze the various sustainable benchmarks as campus realities, such as the percentage of green cleaning products used on campus, while also “discussing and strategizing what steps we can take to move that forward to meet our goals,” Lasco said. 

For students interested in environmental stewardship, the SOUL lecture, including the weekly Wednesday meetings, are open to the public.

“I really like that this class shows you and helps you understand what’s already happening at OU,” said Janice Brewer, a junior studying sustainable food systems and a member of the SOUL class this semester. “What the goals are, where we can go, how to work with administration and get down to the nitty-gritty of what is the sustainability plan at OU.”

During the semester, students take on one of the 35 benchmarks and tackle a hands-on solution for potential use at the university. Such projects include revised policy changes for commuter students, which would encourage use of public transit, and increased selection of local foods at all OU dining halls. 

“It’s really beneficial that a student can find a benchmark that fits their goals and passions and aspirations,” Brewer said. “It’s really up to the student.”

Nicaylen Rayasa, a fifth-year student studying meteorology, said the SOUL program has given him the tools he needs to be successful in his future career. 

“I had an idea about sustainability, but I didn’t really know too much about the plan (here at OU),” Rayasa said. “It’s very grounded, it’s very focused on this university as a whole. I can actually enact some change anywhere on any kind of university.”

SOUL offers an avenue for students to enact some degree of environmental sustainability measures right here in Athens, for those who choose to enroll in the course or attend the weekly meetings next semester.

This story also appears on The Post