Green Fee Committee

The University installed a solar-powered charging station outside the Art Building and Museum in June. The station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After four years of preparation, the University installed two solar-powered charging stations, one outside the Perry-Castañeda Library and the other outside the Art Building and Museum, in June.

While other campuses such as Stanford University and Hampshire College have introduced similar charging stations, these stations are the first solar-powered, permanent fixtures on the UT campus. Powered through a roof composed of three solar panels, each station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time, among other electronics. Each station's six batteries allow users to charge their electronics at nighttime and on cloudy days.

The Green Fee Committee, an on-campus organization made up of students, faculty and staff members, decided in 2010 to fund the student proposal for the charging stations as part of its mission to support environmental-conscious campus initiatives. Karen Blaney, program coordinator of the Green Fee Committee, said while the stations may not significantly offset the use of fossil fuel-based energy on campus, they can teach students and community members about solar energy in an interactive way.

“It reminds people that solar energy is an option and that it’s a growing technology,” Blaney said.

During her freshman year, Megan Archer, environmental and biological sciences senior, pushed the original proposal for a solar-power project on campus as part of a class assignment with now-alumni Eric Swanson and Austin Jorn. She said her team originally had proposed solar panel roofs on University buildings, but budgetary restraints stood in the way. They decided to stick with their idea of solar-powered technology because they wanted to see solar energy on campus for the first time.

“We liked the idea of how restrictive [working with solar power] was,” Archer said. “UT didn’t have anything that was solar-powered then.”

Archer collaborated with Beth Ferguson, a UT alumna and founder of Sol Design Lab, a design company that has helped create solar charging stations at other universities, to rent a temporary charging station for the PCL plaza in 2012. During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model

During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model.

“Solar power is hard to understand, so we wanted the project to be hands-on,” Archer said. “We wanted students to have that hands-on experience with our solar station to create their own and modify [their stations] to meet their needs.”

With funding from the Green Fee Committee and the Science Undergraduate Research Group, the customized charging stations, which cost about $60,000 each, were constructed.

Nicholas Phillips, mechanical engineering senior and president of student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, said he hopes the demand for renewable energy products increases on campus.

“The main hindrance with renewable energy advancements is the lack of awareness of the current technologies that are available,” Phillips said in an email. “By having more projects on campus, we are making sustainability become a staple in our campus and by extensions our lives.”

The final phase of the charging station project will include a customized touch screen device, which will display the station's available stored energy, according to Blaney. Students are working on a mobile feature, such as a website or phone application, that will allow users to check the station's available energy, Blaney said.

The University will celebrate the installation of the charging stations on Sept. 19 outside the Art Building and Museum with a series of solar energy workshops.

Michelle Camp, environmental science senior, has been working on the “Quad Energy Challenge” which began Monday and ends Oct. 21. The project aims to help the honors dorms save energy.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

With a $500 prize on the line, honors students might become obsessed with power instead of grades this month.

Turning their lights off is one thing students living in the Littlefield, Carothers, Blanton and Andrews residence halls will do as they compete against each other to see who can save the most energy. UT has installed sub-metering technology in the four dorms, and the meters are tracking each individual floor. The competition started Monday and ends Oct. 21. The floor that has the greatest percentage of energy saved in each dorm will be awarded $500 for a social event.

Michelle Camp, environmental science senior, leads the “Quad Energy Challenge.” She proposed the project in 2011, and she said she is excited to see it launch.

“I can’t wait to see the results and see the huge reductions,” Camp said. “If we do see big savings, UT can potentially install this technology in more buildings on campus so they can save more energy all across campus.”

She proposed the project to the Green Fee Committee, a group that awards funds to various environmental science projects across campus. Camp said the committee awarded her more than $23,000 for her project.

The project has a website,, which tracks and displays the energy savings of each dorm and floor. Students can go on the website at any time to see the latest results, and it is updated every few seconds. Camp said a design class built outdoor visuals for the Quad that show which dorm is leading in the competition.

Camp said she was pushing visibility with the website and visuals because awareness is an important part of energy conservation.

“It is hard to conceptualize your energy usage when you’re looking at the whole building,” Camp said. “When you can really break it down to the floor and wing level, students can start to understand how much energy they personally use.”

Karen Blaney, coordinator of the Green Fee Committee, said Camp’s project and others that monitor energy usage help conserve.

“If energy users are going to make a decision on whether they are going to change their individual habits, it is much easier for them to do so if they can see the impact their decision has,” Blaney said. “That is what a project like this does.”

Justin Jaskowiak, Whitis Residence Halls area manager, is working with Camp on the project. Although the competition just started, Jaskowiak said he is confident residents will commit to the project.

“One of the best parts of working with and supporting student leaders is the energy they bring to initiatives that promote building community and personal development,” Jaskowiak said.

Camp said students can save energy by turning lights off and opening blinds to use natural light. She said they could also unplug unused appliances. Even when turned off, a plugged-in printer and other devices still use power.

As of Monday night, Blanton was in first place in the competition, according to the website.

Printed on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 as: Sparks fly in honors dorm energy contest


Architecture senior Daniella Lewis lays down cardboard while volunteering at Micro Farm.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

UT will use $500,000 gathered from student fees to fund various new sustainability projects on campus this year, a move some hope will make the university’s green initiatives more widely known.

The Green Fee Initiative, funded by a $5 fee on every student’s tuition, will fund green projects including a rooftop garden, a micro farm, energy efficiency initiatives and a bat house. Collin Poirot, student vice chair of the Green Fee Committee, which coordinates the funds, said more project applications demonstrate student awareness of the initiative have grown.

“Students are finding out more and more that this resource exists for them,” he said.

Since its inception in 2010, the Green Fee has funded a tree nursery, recycling initiatives, water bottle filling stations on fountains and various composting projects.

Architecture senior Daniella Lewis received funding for the Micro Farm, a student initiative to grow
sustainable food on campus. Lewis said the farm works across several sustainability groups and hopes to make a visible difference with the funding it receives this year.

“I think part of a well-rounded education includes thinking about food and where it comes from,” she said.

Lewis said while her project is still in its beginning stages, she hopes it will eventually provide food for UT’s Division of Housing and Food Service like spices, herbs and organic tomatoes.

While the Green Fee has had more applications each cycle than it can fund, it is set to expire after summer 2016, according to the committee. In 2009, the state legislature authorized the fee and put a five-year limit on the collection. To be enacted after fall 2015, the fee must be voted on by a student referendum.

“There are going to have to be students who will gather themselves up for a campaign to reenact it,” UT Director of Sustainability Jim Walker said. “I think we’re implementing it really well, but stories about how well campus did on the green fee are going to be what enable students to feel confident about reenacting it again.”

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center also received funds this year to establish a green roof on what once was a patio cafe. Director of Gardens and Growing Andrea DeLong-Amaya said the roof should make some of the center’s research into green roofs more accessible to people.

DeLong-Amaya said while plans haven’t been finalized for the green roof’s layout, they have tentative plans for what it would look like.

“We want to have seasonal planting,” she said. “The idea is to have moveable walking surfaces, like grates that would be movable, and that they would cover plants that were dormant, and feature plants that are actively growing and blooming and looking nice.”

Printed on Monday, September 24, 2012 as: Fees fund sustainability

UT students Alison Wyllie and Shelly Bergel remove weeds from seedlings at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Saturday. The seedlings are slated to be delivered to areas affected by last yearÂ’s fires in Bastrop County.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With Tuesday marking the one-year anniversary of the most destructive fire in Texas history that reduced more than 30,000 acres of Bastrop County to ashes and more than 1,500 homes to mere memories, a UT graduate student is working to restore life to the affected landscape.

UT molecular biology graduate student Vlad Codrea has spent the last year developing and maintaining a tree nursery at UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center with the goal of delivering thousands of native tree seedlings for Bastrop residents and park officials to plant. Codrea hopes this massive effort will help restore natural areas that were devastated in last year’s fire.

“[The seedlings] will be given out to landowners whose land had been burned by the fires as well as planted across Bastrop State Park,” Codrea said.

Codrea said he plans to distribute the 70,000 seedlings growing at the Wildflower Center to Bastrop residents and park officials in October.

UT’s Green Fee Committee funds the majority of Codrea’s tree nursery, the first of its kind at UT, with a $54,000 grant distributed over three years. A part of the Office of Sustainability, the committee allocates the funds it receives from the $5-a-year “Green Fee” that each student pays as part of student fees.

Karen Blaney, Green Fee Committee program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, said the project’s originality and long-term positive effects motivated the committee to award the grant.

“In terms of far-reaching impacts, it is up there,” Blaney said. “There is hope for the tree nursery even after he gets his degree and moves on.”

Codrea received the grant before the fires took place, with the intention of creating a student-run tree nursery at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, but moved to the Wildflower Center and integrated his efforts with theirs after seeing first-hand how destructive the Bastrop fire had been to native plant species in the Lost Pines region.

“After the fires, we knew we had a great responsibility and opportunity to help with the reforestation and restoration project of the Lost Pines,” Codrea said.

Since receiving the grant, Codrea has worked with the Wildflower Center to build a suitable greenhouse for the nursery and hosts student and community volunteers every Saturday. 

Microbiology graduate student Jeremy Henderson helped tend to the seedlings for the first time at last Saturday’s volunteer event.

“By replanting the trees, I think it is a reminder that not only is there a community available to help them nearby, but it also helps them heal those wounds of loss,” Henderson said.

Saralee Tiede, spokesperson for the Wildflower Center, said the nursery is the most extensive project a student has ever conducted in conjunction with the center.  

As for the use of the Green Fee funds on the nursery, Blaney said the nursery is a very visible example of the Green Fee at work and its benefit to the University and community.

“Every single year, students come and wonder what UT is doing for the surrounding community,” Blaney said. “The tree nursery is a really good answer for one way that UT can contribute to the region.”

Blaney hopes the free and public nursery that often hosts student volunteers will spur student interest in conservation and sustainability issues.  

“Not many people get to grow a tree,” Blaney said. “Who knows what it will spark in somebody?” 

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: Seeds donated to Bastrop