Since the fall of 2009 I have been the faculty advisor for the Envirolutions club, a group of Pratt students who work to bring sustainable initiatives to the campus. It is a small-but-very-dedicated group and I am really proud of all the hard work that they have done to reduce the ecological footprint of the Pratt community.
As advisor to Envirolutions, my biggest focus has been on building leadership capacity and organizing skills. When I first took on this advising role, I had come to take for granted all the skills I had learned as a student organizer. I was forced to look back at my own history and ask “where did I get the skills I now bring to my own organizing work?”. This reflection helped me to understand that two key features typified all the positive learning experiences I had in organizing: 1. I was given sufficient responsibility and agency in projects to be personally invested in their outcome; and 2. I was given sufficient guidance to accomplish the goals of the projects I was working on. I try to foster these two conditions in the environment experienced by students in the Envirolutions club.
I ensure that students have sufficient agency in their work by standing aside so that decisions on what project to pursue are completely student-driven. In our club meetings, I try to make suggestions of possible paths the club could take, but always encourage students to reach their own consensus before moving forward on a project. My bigger contribution is to provide the guidance needed to work towards student-defined goals. Because the club’s focus is on making Pratt’s campus more sustainable, a lot of the work students must do in the club requires strategies for dealing with the school’s administration. Students are unfamiliar with the politics involved in the running of a large educational institution, and are often shocked when they realize how tough it is to enact change. I help students to understand what it takes to convince campus administrators to change on-campus practices, providing context for their inspiration to create that change.
I also want to help students to understand how to effectively serve as leaders. The group has grown over the past few years, with more members involved as officers but also more people attending meetings as part of the “general membership”. Pratt students are a busy bunch, so the only way the club can be effective is if it elicits a small contribution from each member. I work with the club’s officers to think about how to effectively distribute the tasks required by each project.
I have also tried to use the skills that I have to empower the club whenever students absolutely need that help. An ethic I bring to advising is that I am not there to do the work of the club, so I avoid stepping in to complete tasks unless students truly cannot do something on their own (although students sometimes appreciate a lot of “doing” by their advisors, my experience is that this short term help is detrimental in the long term because it disempowers students). An example of “needed help” that I have provided is the establishment of the club’s webpage (http://www.prattenvirolutions.org/). I had expertise in setting up a WordPress self-hosted site, expertise that no student in the group brought to the table. The beauty of a WordPress site is that it allows multiple users to easily structure and contribute to a shared club site. While students are still learning to incorporate the site into the club’s overall mission, having a web presence established has provided students with an additional way to make the club more effective and communicative.
Here are some photos from past Envirolutions initiatives:
All posts related to the Envirolutions club can be found here.