Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Update on the BSOS Sustainability Task Force - Protocol Sub-Group

We interviewed our Protocol sub-group to get a gist of what challenges and obstacles they ran into while working toward completing our Solar Panel Charging Station and to hear about their experiences as part of our team.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Is there anything you found interesting or surprising when doing your research and meeting with campus officials?

We found it interesting that there were so many different divisions and departments for almost every aspect of facilities management on campus. Although this may be thorough from a leadership perspective, figuring out which person to talk to and approach was certainly cumbersome. We learned about the wide variety of sustainability-related projects that the universities sustainability fund is exploring. We were surprised at the amount of support and approval we received. Our project was widely admired from students, professors and officials that learned about the work of the STF.

2. Do you have any helpful advice for other student groups working on submitting grants?

The best way to write a grant is to look at the grant from the perspective of someone who is allocating the money to you. What would that person want to see, what would they ask you, what would they not like and what would make people uncomfortable about your grant? The answers to all of these questions, and more, must be addressed in the grant. Understanding the mindset of the evaluator will allow you to write the grant well.

3. How did you figure out who to speak with?

The university is a network. If you don’t know someone directly, it is almost inevitable that someone you know knows that person. Even though it did take a lot of “telephone-tag,” waiting for call-backs and dead-ends, you will be pointed in the right direction by someone and that path will lead your grant to fruition.

4. Who were the officials you spoke with? Why?

We spoke with the associate dean of BSOS, the relevant director of Facilities Management and a high-ranking official on the university's Sustainability Fund.

5. What kind of challenges or gridlock came about when attempting to go through the change-making process?

Some people are very hard to connect with. A lot of the people that we spoke with had many more pressing and important issues to deal with, that took precedent over a student group working on a long term goal. Sometimes, in certain areas of campus, there is not a lot of initial respect and reverence for student projects. Although with some coaxing you can easily convince them that your project merits their attention, sometimes getting to that type of relationship can be tedious.

6. Was it difficult to comply with restrictions on the aesthetics of our campus?

Sometimes, the timeline and bureaucratic process can be very challenging. There are so many stakeholders and different people that care about what goes on around campus, getting everybody on board can be challenging. If you represent the merits of your project well and use proper wording to describe it, something useful for campus will be hard to reject.

7. Can you give us a brief synopsis of your timeline through the bureaucratic system at UMD?

First we had to understand exactly what we are doing. Before we start advocating for it we need to understand it ourselves. That meant talking to each individual member of the Task Force and learning about what they were doing. Then we explored the grant writing process. This meant understanding what the Sustainability Fund wanted to see in a new project, the kinds of projects they have funded in the past, and what keywords they were looking for in a new grant. After the grant was completed, and we are still in this process, we have to work with facilities management and the design review board to get our design approved and permission to build on campus. Since our grant has not been decided on yet, it is hard to really move forward at this point. Having money and the approval of the Sustainability Fund is something we can leverage when talking with the necessary administrative entities.

8. How can students make visual change on campus?

People love student organizations on campus. Professors, prospective students, university marketing, and other students like to see that cool things are happening around campus. If you advocate for your project, highlight the benefits of what you are doing and how your project can make campus better, you won’t find a lot of resistance.

9. What considerations must be taken into account when attempting to make visual changes on campus?

Location is a very important aspect. You can’t put a semi-permanent structure in the middle of the McKeldin Mall. That wouldn’t go over well at all. You need to think about what your change will look like and if it will blend into its surroundings. Although we are building somewhere near McKeldin, we are not building something that would completely stick out from the buildings and foliage around it. Local historians would not be happy about that. You also have to think about who would be affected by it. Does it make peoples walk to class longer? Could it get in the way of any EMS activity? Does it harm something that was already built? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then changing campus will be much harder than you might think.