What started out as an idea in an honors thesis class for NSU senior Maris Grewe became a reality when she became a recipient of the Undergraduate Competitive Research Grant in 2015.
Inspired by a hall council recycling project started in fall 2011, Grewe became interested in how she could make Northern and its students more environmentally conscious. Little did she know that less than two years later, she would’ve created a campus-wide recycling program, run alongside the Environmental Club, that continues to grow and gain attention.
Her goals were simple: make it easier for students to recycle materials such as plastics and influence students’ perceptions of sustainability on campus. More than ever, the younger generation has become infatuated with the idea of making the world eco-friendlier, especially in the area of recycling efforts. Grewe found a way to facilitate the wants of students on campus related to recycling. Using funds allocated from her research grant, Grewe purchased a number of recycling bins to place around campus. Her green footprint is evident across campus, with recycling bins in nearly every building.
After making headlines in the community last fall, following a semester spent studying abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland, Grewe developed a greater understanding of global sustainability efforts. She was surprised to find that Scotland was very tuned in on sustainability efforts, with outlets such as a waste-free café—a restaurant where no materials are wasted or sent to landfills—on campus at Robert Gordon University, where she studied. Along with this, she was able to supplement her understanding of business management and international business, her fields of study, in another country.
With the information collected in Scotland, combined with data gathered from students at Northern regarding their perceptions of sustainability on campus, Grewe completed her senior thesis, “Environmental Sustainability, Millennial Students, and Higher Education: A Comparative Study Between Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA and Aberdeen, Scotland.”
Based on the data collected, the presence of recycling bins on campus has changed student perceptions of sustainability and green efforts at Northern. In a pre-survey, 23 percent of students surveyed felt that NSU did promote environmentally responsible actions. However, from the post-survey, 34 percent agreed that NSU promoted these types of actions, suggesting the image of the institution has changed among students.
“I’m leaving the program behind in the hands of many dedicated individuals who will continue leading Northern in a more eco-conscious direction. I could actually see the program growing due to increasing campus-wide support for the program,” said Grewe, who graduated in May.
Grewe’s words of wisdom for people also interested in making an impact on campus: “Find a professor or advisor who is willing to help you and believes in what you are doing. That was my biggest starting point. Look for opportunities on campus where your voice can be heard. The advisors and professors at NSU know so many influential people who can help you make your mark on campus.”
Grewe herself recognizes the great opportunities that exist at Northern and has wise words for future students: “Take advantage of the free entrance to music and sports events. You don’t realize how much potential exists on campus. Get out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you, even if that means studying for a semester in a foreign place or joining an activity that you’ve never tried before. The real world experience that I’ve gained by stepping out of the box is something which I can only be grateful for.”