“I want to see students get engaged in the process of running the university, and that would be my dream—to see students who are directly engaged in the projects that we do and they have say in the planning of the university and the operations. That’s a really great learning experience and that’s what made me develop into a person that can work within a system.”
Daily Vanguard: So what projects that you are working on are most important to you?
Heather Spalding: I think the projects that are the most important to me are bringing the new students into the university because of the experience that I had where I felt very secluded and isolated when I got here and that’s why I am doing what I’m doing. I believe students are a really important resource and I think that if we’re not invested in them as a university we’re going to fail in the long term.
I want to see students get engaged in the process of running the university, and that would be my dream—to see students who are directly engaged in the projects that we do and they have say in the planning of the university and the operations. That’s a really great learning experience and that’s what made me develop into a person that can work within a system. I think things have changed and now what people need to do to be successful in their lives is to learn how to work within systems that are large, because the structures that we have right now are not going to go away right now and so we have to work with what we have.
DV: How do you get more people mobilized on issues of sustainability?
HS: The large size of the university is a big issue and there’s sometimes a disconnect between students and faculty. I don’t think that’s intentional by anybody but I think students aren’t involved in the process so they’re not getting those hands on experiences—like they don’t see what sustainability really means at PSU and also people just think that it’s about the environment, but its about bringing everybody into a society that works for everyone forever.
DV: What did you get out of today’s panel discussion?
HS: One of the greatest ideas that I heard was in our breakout session. Someone talked about a university day where you get all the students invited to come out and do something that makes an impact on the university, like work in the landscaping, something like that.
I think those projects are really valuable. Students don’t necessarily feel invested in what’s going on at the campus, so they don’t really care—they just see it as a place to come and do your classes and then you leave, but that’s a wasted resource to have all those students. You’ve got 27,000 of them and you need to give them hands-on experience with what they want to do.
DV: Talk a little bit about your experience in the Portland State Sustainability Office.
HS: Noelle [Studer-Spevak] hired me just because of the work she’d seen me doing. I feel really lucky that she chose me to be her assistant and I’ve been able to work on reporting for the university. We created the first comprehensive assessment that tracks sustainability at the university, so that it’s not just an image, but it’s trying to put benchmarking in there so that we’re actually working towards tangible goals
Also, we’re creating the annual report for the university, which as never happened before.
DV: What can Portland State do to become more sustainable?
HS: It’s been really fast and I think all of us worked really, really hard. The experience was challenging because nobody has done it before and created a program that didn’t exist before.
I think students need to know that we pay for our sustainability coordinator, part of her salary, and they pay for my salary, and they fund GRAs who are working on these things so its all students who’ve done this. In 2002 they wanted a recycling program so students created that and then students created the sustainability coordinator position.
I do think its student driven, and it should be. I think it’s giving them the opportunities to get the skills they need to understand how to navigate the system, that’s the really big issue.
DV: What do you say to the students who aren’t as involved in these issues?
HS: PSU has the largest real estate capital of any organization in Oregon, it’s the largest university in Oregon, it has 36 percent of the student body, and a lot of people who become planners and doctors and all these people in society come through this university, so its good to invest in it because PSU is one of the driving forces for our whole state. So if you care about Oregon, like I do—you know I’m from southern Oregon—PSU is a really good place to put your energy and your time.