New student fee to support sustainability initiatives

The Western Carolina University Eco CATS student organization helped gather hundreds of signatures in support of the recently approved Sustainable Energy Initiative.

Western Carolina University full-time students will begin paying an additional $5 in fees during the fall and spring semesters to support sustainability initiatives on campus.

The new fee, which takes effect this fall, is expected to generate more than $77,000 a year, which a student-led committee will then allocate to sustainability-related projects proposed by students, faculty and staff. Project proposals must show a benefit to students, can come from any discipline and may range from brick-and-mortar type projects to research to student internships. Proposal criteria will align with the goal of educating and inspiring all members of the WCU community about the potential for and benefits of conservation and renewable energy innovation.

Part of WCU’s Sustainability Energy Initiative proposed by WCU’s Student Government Association and the Eco CATS (Conservation Awareness Team for Sustainability) student group, the fee proposal won support in February from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Ryan Hermance, SGA president, said he is excited to see the initiative, which was first drafted at WCU in 2006, finally be approved by students, the WCU tuition and fees committee, the WCU Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors.

“This year, the SEI had a very strong approval rating with more than 50 percent of student respondents in favor,” said Hermance. “I have very high expectations for this initiative and hope to see many projects from it that benefit the students and the university and that help make WCU a more sustainable campus.”

Jessica Grant, president of Eco CATS and a senior from Rockingham majoring in psychology with a minor in art, said she sees passage as a step toward WCU becoming the “amazing green campus I have always dreamed it would be.”

“I feel excited beyond words,” said Grant.

In seeking approval, Eco CATS members collected 671 signatures in support of the initiative and fee through repeatedly hosting information tables inside and near A.K. Hinds University Center, creating and distributing flyers, and meeting with student groups and classes. Volunteers ranged from graduate student Audra Begg, who provided leadership to the effort this fall, to four freshman in the “Going Green: Leadership and Environmental Responsibility” living-learning community who assisted with acquiring signatures.

In addition, the fee garnered support from more than 50 percent of students who completed an online survey about all proposed tuition and fees. The survey was open to all WCU students enrolled this past fall.

“This accomplishment has been no small feat for our student leaders,” said Lauren Bishop, WCU’s chief sustainability officer, who traced the origin of the developments to work by 2006 Eco Cats president McKenzie Dillingham. “Words cannot express how proud I am of our student leaders that made the effort possible.”

Dillingham, a 2009 WCU alumna and a project manager with Morgan-Keefe Builders in Arden, drafted the original charter for the Sustainability Energy Initiative and repeatedly revised and proposed the initiative to members of the campus community.

“Implementing a Sustainability Energy Initiative was not only going to help the environment by reducing our carbon footprint but it was also going to  shift the educational experience of the student body, making everyone more aware of their impact and ability to make a difference,” said Dillingham. “To see the SEI being passed gives me great hope that future students at WCU will be more involved in reducing their environmental impact.”