Washington – Oregon Higher Ed Sustainability Conference Recap!
This past week PCC was delighted to help sponsor, organize and participate in the 2018 Washington Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WOHESC) held at Portland State University from February 6th, 7th, and 8th. This regional sustainability conference was previously hosted in Washington as WAHESC (2017) and in Oregon as OHESC (2016). This was the first year the conferences have been combined to create WOHESC, which will continue to alternate between Washington and Oregon in the coming years, celebrating the collective work of both Washington and Oregon here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. PCC was proud to have nearly 40 students, faculty, and staff in attendance, including President Mark Mitsui. President Mitsui was also a speaker at the conference and we were pleased to have three of our students and several of our instructors and faculty as speakers in sessions as well.
President Mitsui participated in a great opening plenary on Thursday morning entitled: The Big Picture: Campus Sustainability Through the Lens of Executive Leadership. Robert Liberty (the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Portland State University) was the moderator for the panel and Michael Harwood (Associate Vice President, University of Oregon), Carol Long (Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Willamette University) and Barbara Wingerson (Associate Vice President & Chief of Staff, University of Washington) along with President Mitsui provided their insights from their respective colleges and universities. The focus was around integrating sustainable systems in academia while creating more robust, equitable, inclusive, and diverse communities and environments on campuses. They touched on what this looks like at each institution as they work to also maintain a strong connection to the triple bottom line. President Mitsui also did an excellent job of recognizing the work and initiatives that are happening at all levels at PCC, and we were especially pleased to hear his acknowledgement of the great efforts that have come from the past and present students who are engaged in this sustainability and environmental justice movement at Portland Community College.
Our talented and personal super hero Elaine Cole (Sustainability Coordinator, Rock Creek) was the moderator for a great panel discussion that included Briar Schoon (PCC Sustainability Manager), and Heidi Sickert (Business Faculty, Sustainability & Curriculum Council Chair) in the breakout session; The Sweet Spot: Where Campus-Wide Partnerships Converge to Implement Institutional Changes. Jenny Nitsky (Sustainability Coordinator Assistant, Southern Oregon University) also joined in this panel discussion where they looked at finding the collaborative sweet spot where mutually beneficial educational projects in sustainability can happen by forging partnerships and relationships with the operations and the academic side of the house. They explored how this can happen in a variety of ways including greening operations, integrating curriculum, and through connecting with student leadership. By finding this sweet spot, sustainability can be integrated into all levels of the higher education institutions spectrum.
PCC students and faculty also participated in the session entitled; Collaborative Social Justice Service Learning: Transitioning to Inclusive Sustainability in an Insecure and Divided World. It consisted of Nicholas Carmack (Student Body President Cascade Campus), Rylie Wolff (Co-op Director Rock Creek Campus), and Joe Culhane (District Sustainability Communications Specialist & Environmental Justice Coordinator for Cascade Campus) which was combined with PCC’s Diane Shingledecker (CBL CTE District Faculty Coordinator) and Brittney Chesher (Graduate Intern, Human Services Resource Center. Oregon State University). While the session included a broad scope of topics the primary focus was addressing food insecurity and how this presents opportunities to create foundational changes at higher education institutions by creating inclusive and equitable solutions to make sure the students at these schools are getting their basic nourishment. Bringing together traditionally segmented groups, clubs, and resource centers to create projects that support the students on these campuses while also improving the community experience was a highlight of this presentation and panel discussion.
The two full days of WOHESC had a lot to offer and it’s hard or even unfair to say there was one major highlight because the truth is, there were more highlights packed into these two days than we can count. With that noted, this year the focus at WOHESC was Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity in the sustainability movement and the keynote by Pandora Thomas was a refreshing look at how to bridge the divide between grassroots organizing and activism with higher educational institutions sustainability and environmental/social justice movements. Thomas is a passionate speaker and her authority on the subjects of applying ecological principles into social design to create engaging and inclusive learning experiences provided enormous inspiration to those in attendance for her great keynote. Her topics of focus ranged from the broader scope of diversity and social justice to youth and women’s leadership, and integrating social entrepreneurship permaculture and sustainability programming to those who need it most, including men and women returning home from incarceration. Her keynote highlighted the co-founding of the Black Permaculture Network and working with the Toyota Green Initiative over the last 6 years as well. The big takeaway that many of us received was the illumination Thomas brought to embracing the truth and fact that we all bring assets to the table and it benefits us all to recognize and celebrate that. Her focus may be directed towards supporting the most vulnerable communities of our greater population though the principles of her curriculums and teachings, focused on permaculture design and integrating social equity into this programming is something we all could benefit from doing.
There were so many great takeaways and connections made at WOHESC this year and we at PCC look forward to being a sponsor and participating in helping make the conference better and better in the future. To learn more about the more than 100 presenters that were at the conference and some of the great programs and sessions that took place, please go to the WOHESC website and have a look around!