How students and faculty created a position at the college
After an engineering studies class, a letter to President Alison Byerly, a march from Farinon to Markle and, later, a search committee, Lafayette College has hired the first sustainability director in its history.
The two-year student and faculty effort to fill the position culminated last Tuesday, when professor Kira Lawrence announced to the sustainability committee that Marie Fechik-Kirk will fill the position. Fechik-Kirk will begin on Nov. 14.
Last spring, an engineering studies class called Sustainable Solutions submitted a review of Lafayette’s sustainability record to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Lafayette received a ‘silver’ rating.
Lawrence said that was “pretty good for the absence of a sustainability director.”
“There have been a lot of really good sustainability efforts here on campus,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been here a decade, so across my time here there have been some really impressive accomplishments in terms of composting, in terms of our farm, LaFarm, and a bid for a sustainable food loop.”
“What we have lacked on this campus is someone who is capable of pulling all of those threads together, and someone whose full-time job and expertise are in sustainability,” she added. “We can do so much better than what we are doing if someone had the time and the know-how to make it be different.”
So, the Sustainable Solutions class had one big recommendation to Byerly: hire a sustainability director.
Then, last October, about 50 students marched from Farinon to Markle Hall to prompt Byerly to respond to student and faculty calls to fill the position. Byerly responded through a megaphone that a sustainability coordinator will be hired.
At the request of Vice President of Finance Roger Demareski, a search committee was created with him, Lawrence, professor Dru Germanoski, professor David Brande, Lafarm manager Sarah Edmonds, Alexa Gatti ’16 and Peter Todaro ’17. While the same position at other schools may be located in one department, the committee sought to create a position that spanned all three major parts of the college: administration, academics and student life.
“Many sustainability directors report within a facilities organizations,” Demareski said, “because most people think of sustainability as energy conservation and recycling. So, a lot of schools house them in [the facilities department.]”
“The sustainability director’s job is also to educate, and I think that’s the different piece here,” he added. “Students that come in should be educated on why these things are important, so that when they go out and make an impact on the world, that part of Lafayette has impacted them.”
Demareski, who described the creation of the position as a “grassroots” effort, oversaw the sustainability director position for five years at Princeton. The sustainability director there, Shana Weber, visited Lafayette last fall as the college was designing the position.
Todaro said the position will be “expansive,” as it will encapsulate and lead projects across the college. One concern that both Todaro and Lawrence remark is that recycling is an often-mentioned issue.
“Then there are macro-level issues,” Todaro added. “What’s our carbon footprint? How are we measuring it? Are we adhering to the president’s climate plan, that President Byerly signed? Are we on target for that? How can we reduce our carbon emissions? What new structures on campus will be put in? Will they be LEED-certified [a sustainability certification with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]?”
Fichek-Kirk will report directly to Demareski, who is a cabinet member, and join student and faculty efforts to promote sustainability initiatives. She said she got her MBA with a focus on sustainability so that she could work at a college or university in this type of position. Lafayette’s focus on engineering attracted her, she said, but a college environment provides a comfortable place to really early about sustainability.
“I like that every year is a new year so you can try out different things, and find new projects,” she said. “I like the cyclical nature of the work.”
“I also like that there are constantly new ideas, and you’re surrounded by people that are learning and growing,” she continued. “Hopefully, it’s a place like an incubator where you can carry out new things and see if they work and ask new questions.”
Fiches-Kirk, who Todaro said was one of about 50 applicants to the position, has previously worked as a sustainability consultant, director of sustainability at The Hill School in Pottstown, Penn. and German teacher. She said she has “lots of notes” about how to go forward at Lafayette.
“Some of the ideas that really stand out are the ideas that we need to take some sort of wide look at campus to see where our strengths are, and then what can we promote, talk about, to make sure all the stakeholders on campus are aware,” Fichek-Kirk said.
Sustainability Fellow Miranda Wilcha ’16, who participated in the march to Markle Hall last year, will work with Fichek-Kirk on continuing projects like recycling.
Lawrence said she would “tip her hat” to the administration, who was “receptive” to the idea of the new position.
“It’s been a very good example of how administrators, faculty and students can work together to really advance a good cause,” Demareski said.