About the portfolio
Every day, we wake up, and promptly breathe in a lungful of problems that won't leave us alone until we stare them in the eye and decide to tackle where they came from, and process their ramifications if they're left as a loose end. No one likes loose ends. They're nagging reminders of what we haven't achieved yet. They're reminders of our weaknesses. Mine, in particular, is my inability to finish what I start. Here, I aim to press myself beyond the scope of my comfort zone to see an idea all the way to its fruition.
Some of these loose ends require more than the cooperation of just one individual and their unwavering grit. Sometimes, tying off the rope involves the entire village, the village's country, its continent, even all seven continents if they were squeezed back together into Pangea. The what-if statement I started with was, "Wouldn't it be great if we could halt climate change so that it will no longer devour the ski season?"
The solution there is immensely complex, as no one person can control the weather. The winter seasons have been warmer and drier year after year, and climate change is to blame. Climate change is propelled by human activity, namely by the burning of fossil fuels, which release carbon into the atmosphere. Gaseous carbon acts as an insulator in the atmosphere by trapping the sun's radiation. This is a monumental challenge, and the solution for it has been worked and reworked by numerous environmental groups.
Recognizing that climate change is the summation of individual actions, the solution to stopping climate change starts with myself and my immediate community. With that in mind, I narrowed the scope of my challenge to "What can Miami University do in order to make its campus sustainable?" What starts with Miami will transfer into benefits for Butler county, Ohio, the United States, North America, and Pangea. And what's good for Pangea is clearly good for skiing.
Without further adieu, welcome to the creative problem-solving process.
Step 1: Clarify
a. What do I already know?
Welcome to my comfort zone. In that corner over my shoulder, draw your awareness to the yoga mat that I rolled up only an hour before. In my closet, you'll notice a disgusting amount of gear. A sleeping bag, rock climbing shoes and a harness, and an entire rack of draws. Right next to it? Yeah, there's my snowboard that could really use a fresh coat of wax (you see, it hides the gouges from the rocks I've grazed while hitting the trees). Helmet? Check. Unnecessary in-helmet Beats? You bet. Boots from 8th grade that still fit? Do you see the collage I've taped above by desk? Analyze it. Oh, half of the elements are lift tickets from the far, far away ski mountains I've managed to fling my trusty Subaru? The more I seek, the more I'm sought.
My comfort zone is infinitely more larger than the cramped half dorm room where I'm confined. It expands to any place on earth that has ever been graced by the blessed precipitation. I know a ton about the ski industry, thanks to my ski-patrolling dad. From this place of snow, I naturally gravitated to solving a challenge question that fit where my expertise lay. Climate change is threatening the entire industry. 2016 was one of the warmest years on record. It was my second season in Vermont, and I was prepared to get to the mountain at least two days a week. Then, something happened.
In actuality, nothing happened.
My initial reaction stemmed from the frustration of staring up at the sky, palms facing up, and questioning why. Why it was so dry. Why it was so incredibly warm. November bled into December. I didn't even get to strap in over Christmas. December gave way to January. Still, nothing. This was my way of life, and it was being taken away because of climate change. Like an angry Luddite, unforgiving of a new norm, I knew that my challenge question would address a solution to keep the snow on the ground and skiers on the snow. I refuse to accept that I will be confined to sandboarding as a reasonable alternative.
iteration 1: how can we halt climate change so that it no longer devours the ski season?
After conducting a primary wave of research and initial interviews, I found that I had to narrow my scope. While my challenge was larger than myself, I had to start with myself, and my immediate environment. With that, I landed on:
iteration 2: what can Miami University do to make itself more sustainable?
b. What do I want to know?
My first response was, "what should my first response for me, a college kid, and my peers, other college students, be?" Turns out that Protect our Winters (POW), knows how to answer that question. In fact, they've even published a guide on how to take action as a non-STEM major speck of dust (check it here). Climate change has been a very politically-charged topic, especially over the last election cycle. Not surprisingly, their first line of recommended combat is to put your ballot where your mouth is. Hold your elected officials accountable. Thank those that help to combat climate change. Schedule a visit with your elected official. OK, I could handle that.
But next came the hard part. I had to actually send an email to a warm body and ask questions. Every tap upon my keyboard hurt, but I put myself out there, and reached out to POW, asking about what college kids in particular could do. And I waited. And waited. I figured that my question was simply too basic to warrant a response. In my mind, everytime I liked one of their posts on Instagram, their underpaid social media guy would snicker and say, she sent us a toooootally dumb and basic email, this is hilarious!
But, more that two weeks after I sent it, there it was: an reply from Joe at POW. My anxiety over it was unfounded. Well, not totally. Instead of a beautifully crafted and insightful response, I got 2 sentences. And they were a glorious two sentences.
Next, I wanted to know Miami's official stance on sustainability. Sure, they dedicated some wall space in Armstrong and Farmer to display their LEED certifications, but building specs don't necessarily translate into operating procedures. It appears that sustainability is just a hot buzzword than Miami is attempting to capitalize on with its marketing. One of the goals that Miami set in 2010 was to "improve the culture and awareness of sustainability on campus" by 2020. We're only two years away from the end of the 10-year plan, and I'm unsure that this goal will be reached. Read about Miami's Sustainability Plan here.
c. Heart Research
Next up, I conducted empathetic research on how my peers felt Miami did on conveying their sustainable stance. The majority of those I spoke to didn't know that Miami even had a sustainability policy. Next, I asked their perception of the cultural climate of the student body in relation to being eco-friendly. "We're drunk and don't care," one first-year student said, shrugging her shoulders. Feelings of complacency were the norm.
Those that self-identified as concerned for the environment seemed to take steps in order to distinguish themselves from the general "them" student body. My good friend, Daniela, just got back from studying abroad in Israel, where they take sustainability seriously, due to the limited supply of natural resources. She expressed disgust at Miami's haphazard attempt at recycling. "When they don't pair recycling bins with each trash can, what do they expect to happen?" was a kernel of truth which I identified with as well. Daniela has bought in to the notion that limiting the affects of climate change begins with her own individual actions. She carries her own set of reusable bamboo silverware with her at all times, as well as a reusable water bottle. She chastises me for failing to bring a reusable mug around campus, and her sharp rebukes stemming from me clutching a paper cup actually causes me to take my Hydroflask around more often than not. For her and her circle of friends, the understood cultural norm is one where each person is responsible for the environmental impact of their actions.
From another interview, a glimmer of hope shone bright in a sea of complacency. One sophomore said, "I really would like to be more eco-friendly, but I don't know how." I pressed further, asking in what ways. "Well, I recycle," he said, and cut him off right there, asking a quick check-in question. If I handed you an empty Starbucks cup with all its components, how would you go about recycling it? "What do you mean? I'd toss it in the recycling bin." Oh no. I explained that the cup itself isn't recyclable, as it's lined with plastic. However, the plastic lid and cardboard sleeve are fair game for the blue can. He was shocked. "I'm really trying, I am, but no one has ever told me this. I wish they did." A light bulb went off. Was Miami's culture of complacency due to a simple case of ignorance? This might be easier to solve than I thought.
After my heart research, I refined my approach to my challenge question once more. While I felt a bit unsure due to its abstract nature, I knew I was getting somewhere since the focus was even narrower than the last iteration. My final challenge question evolved into:
What action can Miami University take in order to change the cultural perception of sustainability on campus?
[CLICK PICTURES BELOW TO SEE HEART RESEARCH NOTES]
Step 2: Ideate
Go for quantity i defer judgement i seek novelty i bad ideas wanted i
fluency i flexability I originality i elaboration I
By this point, I finally had purchased sticky notes that didn't resemble the one-ply toilet paper that my group was named after. I conducted my work in a series of three ideation sessions. The first was a brain dump, where an approach of "how many ideas can you come up with in 5 minutes" was executed. In the second, I used an ideation technique prevalent in Sweden, called Challenging Assumptions (pssst). Here, I wrote down every assumption I made about solving my challenge problem of solving sustainability literacy. For the next phase, I wrote down down challenges to the assumptions I was making to the issue. This allowed me to think more broadly on what exactly would make a decent solution by challenging even the circumstances of the issue I was seeking to solve. The third was the lotus flower technique we used in class.
Between the first two methods, I ended up with a fluency score of 48. After lotus-flowering three ideas, I had a score of 72. Not bad. For me, it's hard to refrain from placing judgement. Our brains operate with an automatic implicit bias. This biases remain, even when they stand in direct contrast to our stated values (inspiration). I held the mantra of reserve judgement over and over, but hey, who knows if it actually worked. Still, I took a risk by operating outside of my typical line of sight.
From the Challenging Assumptions ideation, the revelations I was seeking shone through. During the Assumptions-generation phase, certain sticky notes stuck with me. Namely, "these reusable things are too expensive", "I'm too small to make a difference", and "Republicans don't care about the earth". The most philosophically-driven idea from this phase included "no one cares as long as they're comfortable". Many of these assumptions can be changed with education. By teaching students and the public at large how to make their everyday actions more sustainable, they'll be empowered to make a change. The impact of altered behavior will have an exponential affect, since one person does do many things throughout the course of the day.
The lotus-flower ideation was telling as well. I developed the "further education" sticky, and "manifest policy". Under further education, I came up with the idea of a platform where Miami educates students on the school's sustainability policies and how they can practice sustainable habits before they even step foot on campus. This way, the administration can affect the perceptions of incoming students, which will lead to a cultural shift in how eco-friendly practices are valued by the overall student body. When lotus-flowering "manifest policy", I ideated ways that the school can change operations so that the school's official stance on sustainability can be visibly seen in the everyday student experience. This included installing Elkay water bottle filling stations at every set of water fountains. Additionally, more recycling bins could be placed around the food concepts in Armstrong. Also, the school could implement a bottled water ban, where plain bottled water would no be sold anywhere on campus, in effect forcing students to use a reusable bottle. Each student would be given a Miami reusable bottle during orientation so that they'll be prepared once they're a full-time student. In addition, the bookstore could beef up its water bottle aisle, and be able to generate more in sales revenue.
Easier said than done. I came up with a vast quantity of ideas, but now it was time to critique them, applying the same critical lens that I had to obstruct during the divergence phase. As my goal was to impact the campus' culture in relation to valuing an eco-friendly existence, I decided on a multi-pronged approach in order to do this.
The first novel idea is Sustainability Edu. It's a course that first-year students will take prior to moving into Miami. Similar to the online educational courses that Miami requires first-year students to take regarding alcohol and Greek life, the purpose is to educate new campus members on the culture and school policy. The next prong on changing the school's climate is to implement a bottled water ban. Students will receive a reusable water bottle during orientation. In addition, the bookstore will beef up their selection of reusable bottles for sale. By eliminating a senseless use of plastic, the school will reduce their footprint, while reducing the overall cost of their recycling program by not originating waste in the first place. This will be rolled out in conjunction with the installation of water bottle fillers at every major water fountain at campus, making the issue of finding a reliable and filtered source of water a non-issue. Students will be able to see the school's policy on sustainability in action.
Now, it's time to rapidly prototype these innovations in policy and ask my peers their thoughts after interacting with them.
Step 3: Develop
a. Rapid Prototyping
To be quite honest, this phase scared me. While I have a deep appreciation for the arts and creativity, I myself am not able to connect the creativity that lies within my mind, move it out of my brain stem, into my shoulder, through my arm, and finally into my hand. While I understand that creativity is a mindset, I don't have the dexterity to make aesthetically-pleasing art. So, during this phase, I took a risk. I decided to create a prototype of the interface of Sustainability Edu. It started out as a simple sketch drawn by hand, and once I realized that it was decently feasible, I tried my hand at PhotoShop. Again, please note that I know absolutely nothing about the program. The first time I tried it out was last week, and yes, the first five hours were beyond frustrating. But, I buckled down, screamed here and there, but ultimately, got to a prototype of the interface that suited my standards.
I’m not a master programmer, but the interface managed to get the point across. Those that I interviewed appreciated the minimalistic approach to the layout, as well as the use of an engaging video to present the information. Interviewees felt that they didn’t know how to discern what can and cannot be recycled with accuracy, and that they were not aware of the sustainability measures that Miami already has in place. Sustainability Edu will clear up these concerns, allowing students to make the most out of their new environment while keeping our physical environment in mind.
Sustainability Edu is based in six modules, where a fellow Miami student will present facts and information on how to utilize the resources the university can offer them to make Miami greener. I pitched the idea to five different students, and received some interesting responses. One of the first critiques I had was that students would simply skip to the end of the videos to make it look as if they were completed, and not actually take the time to learn. Because of that, I added the feature of the end-of-course quiz. Here, students are asked 15-20 multiple choice questions, and must score a 100% in order to pass the course. Students will have unlimited chances to take the quiz. In order to make Miami more sustainable, we must first change the school’s culture surrounding environmentally-friendly practices by making them a baseline in each student’s psyche. Sustainability Edu is an interactive way for students to learn about eco-friendly measures that they can take to make not only this campus, but our world, better off.
The second idea that I prototyped was the Bottled Water Ban. For my initial prototype, I hand drew a poster that would be used to spread awareness around campus. It stated where students could instead find filtered water for their reusable bottles, as well as the premise of the ban. After having individuals interact with both prototypes, Sustainability Edu was received better, so I created a better prototype in PhotoShop to take into the next round of refining
b. Develop & Refine
Those that interacted with the prototype appreciated that the content was presented via video, which is more engaging that reading a block of text. One peer recommended that I have the text presented along side of it for students that needed the accommodation. Another person I interviewed responded well to the quiz idea, seeing the need for it. While my aim isn't to make this a boring prerequisite, it's essential that students understand what's recyclable, how they can conserve resources, and how to follow Miami's policies so that we can leave the planet in a better place than how we found it. By teaching students what they can and should do in order to execute sustainable actions, they can help shift the culture of Miami.
The water bottle ban was appreciated, but students were unsure how it would manifest on campus. This is because of the athletics department, as they sell bottled water at sporting events. Also, those interviewed were worried that the school wouldn't want to implement it due to lost revenue. Once the school's sustainability plan was shared, many expressed that the ban would actually help to achieve its goals, namely by reducing waste and the school's footprint. "By not even selling bottled water, we won't have to worry as much about what is and isn't recycled, because I know most of the plastic I throw away is from water bottles," a junior shared. "Also, it'll force me to not forget my Nalgene at the house."
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Let's DO this
Step 4: Implement
The solution to the challenge question of what action can Miami University take in order change the cultural perception on campus? is multi-faceted so that change will actually occur. The first step is to clearly demonstrate the institution's commitment to ensuring that sustainable practices are followed, and a core value. Once the environment is included under the code of Love & Honor, the culture of the student body will mold around it, internalizing this facet of New Miami.
In order to generate the change in cultural shift as laid out in the Sustainability plan, the school should adopt a bottled water ban. To ensure its success, water bottle filling stations will be placed at every major fountain on campus, and each new student will be given a reusable bottle at orientation. More reusable bottles will be on sale in the bookstore to compensate for additional demand. Doing so will reduce Miami's footprint by eliminating tons of waste from being introduced to the recycling steam of the campus.
The second part encompasses an interactive educational program entitled Sustainability Edu. It's based based in six modules, where students will learn about the nitty gritty details of recycling properly, how they can help Miami conserve its natural resources, how to use their bike safely around campus to reduce their carbon footprint, and introduce them to their Eco Rep, who will integrate Sustainability Edu events in the resident halls to maintain an environment of continuous learning and application.
In order to make Miami more sustainable, we must first change the school’s culture surrounding environmentally-friendly practices by making them a baseline in each student’s psyche. For love and honor, it's on us.