Escaping the Penn Bubble in Search of Sustainability Opportunities
From bike share programs to sustainability publications, vegan mentorship programs to divestment campaigns, cooperative communal living and everything in between, campuses in Philly as a whole are working hard on sustainability. Students are leading the way — pushing boundaries by making sure that administrators and professors know that the issue of environmental sustainability is an important one.
At Penn, student groups have united under the umbrella organization SSAP — The Student Sustainability Association at Penn. SSAP was founded in 2010 to foster cohesion among environmentally focused student groups, develop strategies for impacting campus sustainability, and create a unified student voice on green issues at Penn. With over twenty environment-related student groups on campus, Penn is certainly a leader in sustainability among Philadelphia-area universities.
Yet despite the amazing things that are being done on individual campuses, Philly’s sustainability scene is still missing a vital component — a united student voice and a place for students from across campuses to connect, share resources, meet mentors, and network for job opportunities. This void is where the inspiration for SPARC originated.
The Sustainable Philadelphia Alliance of Regional Campuses (SPARC) was launched in January 2014 to promote collaboration among sustainability groups from Philadelphia-area colleges and universities. SPARC seeks to provide a platform for communication and resource-sharing to improve student sustainability efforts on individual campuses.
Since its formation in 2014, SPARC has picked up considerable momentum; the interested students and professionals that make up our first class of student fellows and advisory board members demonstrate this organization’s potential for impact.
Through in-person working group meetings, networking events, conferences, campus tours, and other events and initiatives we hope to spark innovation and passion for sustainability among students in the Philadelphia area. Too often, students and professionals end up working in silos without conduits to connect them. This can lead to unnecessary repeated work and worst of all for students, burnout. Without students from other schools to connect with, a set-back from administrators or a poorly attended event can devastate a group. It’s easy and understandable to lose motivation when this happens.
Many of SPARC’s student fellows, including myself, have faced burnout, yet, when we meet to discuss projects, we almost always leave revived and excited to move forward with the suggestions and resources proposed by other students. We’ve seen this effect most in our working group meetings, where students break into groups based on topic interest. This engagement between students with varying experiences and backgrounds is a crucial part of advancing sustainability on campus and beyond.
Furthermore, there is currently a lack of professional opportunities for environmentally focused students in Philadelphia. Consider the dozens of Penn students who traveled all the way to NYC for the only sustainability-focused career fair of the year a few weeks ago — opportunities like these should be available closer to home. SPARC hopes to fill this void by hosting four career-related events next year.
As SPARC completes its first full year, we are excited to move forward by hosting Food Week and recruiting our second class of student fellows. The goal of SPARC’s Sustainable Food Week is to bring together students and professionals from the Philadelphia area who are passionate about the intersection between food and sustainability. We hope that our food week events bring students together to inspire them to create even more positive change on their campuses and in Philadelphia.
I am incredibly excited to be working with so many others on an organization I wish had existed when I was a freshman at Penn, seeking professional opportunities and connections with other students who were also passionate about sustainability, but not sure where to start. SPARC is here and ready to be a resource for students and young professionals in the Philadelphia area.
Sara Allan is currently a senior majoring in Environmental Studies at Penn. She was the cochair of SSAP in 2013 and is the cofounder and director of the Sustainable Philadelphia Alliance of Regional Campuses (SPARC).