The WPI community has made great strides in increasing sustainability on campus, from hosting multiple recycling events and building bioshelters for the local community to promoting sustainable transportation and ensuring campus buildings are as environmentally friendly—and LEED-certified—as possible.
The biodegradable torch has now been passed on to civil and environmental engineering professor Paul Mathisen, who will succeed Orr as sustainability director on January 1.
Mathisen, who has a breadth of experience and passion for work related to sustainability (particularly on water-related topics) is quick to recognize Orr’s dedication to promoting sustainability on campus, and is eager to learn as much as he can before the current director’s departure. Liz Tomaszewski will continue in her role as Associate Director of Sustainability.
Mathisen worked in conjunction with Orr on the university’s sustainability plans, and was particularly involved in the academic and research aspects of those efforts—he and Orr co-chaired a working group to assess WPI's current strengths in sustainability and develop goals and objectives for advancing sustainability in the future.
WPI students currently have the option of minoring in sustainability or majoring in environmental engineering or environmental and sustainability studies. Mathisen says there are also many other programs and activities that promote sustainability on campus. “One of the things we’re trying to do is promote and clarify what kind of options are available in the sustainability area,” he explains.
Many projects—on campus and at project centers—also involve sustainability, says Mathisen, but he adds that there’s always room for more. “I’d certainly like to increase the focus on sustainability around campus and in our programs and curriculum, as well as our research.”
In addition to his teaching work, Mathisen is co-director of two project centers--the Boston Project Center and the Massachusetts Water Resource Outreach Center, both of which host a variety of sustainability-related projects. Since both of these centers emphasize sustainability, he would like to stay involved, but ultimately, he says, “It all comes down to finding the best way to support the students.”
One of the things Mathisen is most looking forward to as the director is the opportunity to collaborate with other members of campus to further the university’s sustainability efforts and emphasis in areas ranging from academics, research, campus operations, and campus and community engagement.
“I’ve worked more on the ecological and engineering sides [of sustainability],” he says, “and we’d like to promote the conversation and recognize other perspectives as well.”
WPI’s dedication to sustainability doesn’t just stop at the borders of campus; it's also instrumental in spreading awareness in local and neighboring communities, another aspect of the work Mathisen hopes to further highlight as director. Projects he’s advised at the Water Resources Outreach or Boston project centers include working with cities to recognize the impacts of climate change, solving stormwater problems faced by local residents, helping communities plan to reduce the impacts of severe storms.
While being more environmentally friendly and conscious has become prevalent in recent years—in schools and in businesses—it's easy to become complacent, something Mathisen strives to avoid in his current work and going forward as director of sustainability.
“The term is so ingrained that sometimes people don’t realize all the ways we can be committed to sustainability,” he says, “It still needs to play a more prevalent role in the culture of our community.”
- By Allison Racicot