EC Impacts: Personal Growth, Professionalism and Connection

By Charlie Shew, Energy Impact Team Coordinator

As a senior preparing to graduate this April, I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my days spent at Fort Lewis College and how my involvement with the school has prepared me for my next steps after college. Working at the Environmental Center has been my most professionally, personally and socially fulfilling experience at FLC. I’ve had the opportunity to be a Real Food Challenge team member and coordinator as well as this year’s Energy Impact team coordinator.

I have gained so many professional skills while working with the EC in various capacities. It’s no coincidence that I’ve been fortunate enough to bookend my college career as student coordinator at the EC. My professional skills gained include creating project management documents, leading meetings, developing educational materials, tabling, canvasing, taking meeting minutes, working in a diverse office space, and much, much more.

It is an honor to be a ‘leader amongst leaders’ because these folks push me to stay educated and savvy regarding the work we are doing. Personally, the EC showed me the caliber of community needed to effectively work on today’s environmental and social needs. To continue this work, I want to impress on anyone who knows about this unique and superb community called the EC that it’s up to us to keep it that way.

For those reading this that are already involved, please, continue to embrace its resources, and don’t let up — the benefits of this place will continue to help you grow. For those not yet involved, you have a community waiting for you that will support you and challenge you in whatever you choose to pursue, and the EC will give you the tools necessary to make the impact you want.

Socially, I can’t thank the EC enough for the connections this place opened up for me. My first experience with the EC encapsulates the potential networking benefits this place can bring to anyone who walks through its doors or comes across its work.

When I first arrived in Durango, the EC gave me the opportunity to assume the role of FLC representative and campaign mascot, or ‘Bag Monster’, for the Durango bag tax campaign in 2013. The relationships I developed with city officials and active Durango citizens are entirely accredited to this opportunity the EC provided.

I have since become a familiar face recognized by many in the Durango community which is largely due to my continued involvement in the work the EC does. I could not have asked for a better introduction to a new community, both on and off campus.

The skills I gained, the work I did, and the people I connected with each positively impacted me and contributed to many of the values I hold today. The EC helped prepare me to successfully create the change I want to see in the world. I feel confident in bringing my
experience working at the EC as a value-add to my post-college work and communities.

Welcome to Fort Lewis: One Student’s Testimonial

By Mahdi Adittya, Zero Waste Team

My freshman year at Fort Lewis was incredibly unnerving, but the Environmental Center helped me get used to campus life right away. Going to a Local Garden workshop hosted by the EC the first week of school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Working with the campus garden project gave me a sense of belonging. I enjoyed being outdoors, and getting to work with my hands felt amazing. This experience solidified FLC’s uniqueness in my mind.

I immediately jumped at the chance to work with the EC as soon as possible, and I got the awesome opportunity to work with the Zero Waste Team. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge at the EC that will help me in all aspects of life. From office work to getting your hands dirty with ink or compost, you will learn to do everything here. In my opinion, there is a great balance between doing office work and working in the field. Each team contributes to the greater picture of environmental justice, and we all work well together.

I’ve improved on an immensely personal level while working here, and I’ve learned to confidently express my ideas more than ever before. I feel comfortable bringing up my ideas for new initiatives, and I believe I can help improve the campus as a whole with the help of my teammates. That’s one of the best things about the EC. Anyone can present a great idea, and the EC will try to make it happen.

From the start it’s been a very welcoming and fun place to work! Everyone involved is extremely friendly, and we are a very close knit community. I love spending my time at the EC, and it almost feels like a second home. Anyone can feel welcome here and make positive changes around campus. I hope to continue contributing to the EC in the upcoming years, and I want to continue making an impact for my school and my community.

Reaching Out: The Joy of Serving Your Community

By Paula Pletnikoff, Local Food Fellow

“When your dreams include service to others – accomplishing something that contributes to others – it also accelerates the accomplishment of that goal.” – Jack Canfield

The words above, so intentionally structured by Jack Canfield, speak to me all that much more after my experience at the Environmental Center. I knew that I wanted to spend my time in college undertaking as much as I could, challenging myself to learn and grow, creating positive change, and connecting with others. However, I never would have thought that when I read about the EC on the Fort Lewis College website, it would have made such an impact on me and raise me up to accomplish more than I ever imagined was possible. Not only have the EC’s initiatives challenged me to rise up to the occasion, but the support of the EC community has nurtured and encouraged me to take on great tasks to advance the lives of not only myself and my co-workers, but the public at large. I am confident that after I graduate I’ll have the skills and experience I need to go on and make positive changes wherever I go.

Recently, the rest of the incredible Local Food Security Team and I have launched a program on campus that provides participants with the skills, tools, and resources they need to take weekly action to increase their own local food security. The Local Food Hunger Force, as the program is so called, has been so positively received by community members that it has again opened my eyes to what an enriching community we live in, and how important the opportunities to support each other are. There’s truth behind the idea that working for the greater good and wanting to help the people around you is a wonderful part of being human. I believe that as social creatures it’s what we’ve evolved to do and that it’s crucial to our survival and happiness. When I started as a freshman it was a little intimidating putting myself out there. I felt vulnerable to objection and dismissal, but seeing our community’s support for our local food system and their excitement to advance the lives of themselves and their neighbors has motivated me to keep going and find more opportunities to assist those around me.

My advice to anyone that desires to better themselves, help others and make a positive change in the world: Go for it! Take those opportunities, and don’t let fear or anxiety hold you back. People are more responsive than you might think, and you never have to do any of it alone. Reach out, get involved in what you care about and stand strong in the face of challenge. Amazing things happen when we work for a purpose greater than ourselves.

Real Food, Real Life, Real Change

Katrina Rachwitz, Real Food Challenge Team

I considered myself to be a passionate environmentalist when I started at Fort Lewis College. As my time here has progressed I believe my passion has grown significantly. I am an environmental studies major, and of course, my education has solidified environmental consciousness for me, but I have grown mostly because of the time I spend at the Environmental Center with the amazing EC’ers.

I am a part of the Real Food Challenge team, working to get ecologically sound, humane, fair and/or local foods in the dining hall. This has brought all different aspects of environmentalism into one neatly packaged project. Food is this amazing knot that connects people to the earth, and it connects all beings to each other no matter if they are a different ethnicity, religion or species. We all need to eat, right?

Through my work at the EC I get to learn about the impact of our food system on the world around us and not just the impact of food on ourselves. I’ve learned about how food transportation causes an increased dependence on fossil fuels, about the torturous lives that livestock live, and how our current food system perpetuates great human rights violations. The Real Food Challenge is changing the food system to benefit, instead of harm, the earth, workers, biodiversity, livestock, and our own health.

The EC has this amazing energy whenever I walk through the doors. It’s always full of passionate people excited to make their impact in the world. All the employees and volunteers at the EC are learning how to live sustainably and how to bring the values and tactics we learn into the world beyond Fort Lewis.

We do some amazing work for sustainability on and off campus, but that is not what makes the EC so amazing, it is the people there. I have made some of my best friends and done some of the most inspiring things because of the EC. The world is in a tough spot environmentally and socially, and whenever I start to feel down about our current political predicament, I just go to the EC. I see wonderful people working to make the world a better place, and they give me hope for the future!

The Unsung Heroes of Campus Sustainability

By Jake Hutcherson, Zero Waste Team

There is little doubt that the Fort Lewis College community appreciates and supports the efforts being made to increase sustainability on campus, but have you ever considered the behind the scenes efforts making this possible? What may sound like a fairly straightforward system is quickly complicated by logistics, manpower, funding, and resources. It takes a unique type of person to tackle these problems and keep a smile on their face while doing it.

Take the recycling system for example. FLC has a robust collection system allowing students and staff to access recycling wherever they are on campus. Most people simply don’t think twice after throwing that piece of recycling into the bin, but for that piece of recycling to make it from the bin to the Durango transfer station relies solely on a man named Damian.

Damian single-handedly collects all of the recycling throughout campus, sorts out any contaminated recyclables, transfers it all to the final staging bins, and makes sure there are no issues with the system. While this workload could easily overwhelm anyone, Damian is continually trying to improve the system and encourage more people to recycle. He doesn’t do any of it for the praise, but because he wants to make a difference.

For another example, look at our dining hall composting program. On many campuses, food waste produced in a dining hall ends up in a landfill, but thanks to our dedicated, hard-working staff, a majority of FLC’s food waste is composted and used in our campus garden. This process doesn’t happen on it’s own. It takes the effort of many people behind the scenes. Our wonderful Sodexo dining staff makes sure that the leftover food waste on your plate ends up being macerated and available to be fed into the composter. The collected food waste is fed into our composter several times a day, and once it makes it through the machine, the finished product is then hauled to the garden and sifted to be usable. Again, none of these staff members do it for the praise, but without them the system would fall apart overnight.

These are just two of the countless examples of hard working, dedicated people striving for a more sustainable campus without any recognition. So next time you see Damian collecting the recycling, or the compost crew moving bags of compost, or the Sodexo staff cleaning food waste off dishes, be sure to go thank them for all they do. FLC wouldn’t be the amazing place it is if it weren’t for them!

Resistance and Change: Reflections from a Student Activist

By Amaya McKenna, Energy Impact Team

The line between being an activist and a professional is incredibly blurry and fine. I have been told that you must choose one over the other – that they are not compatible. However, with the help of my peers and professors, I have come to understand that activism can range from teaching younger generations about the perils of the world to chaining yourself to a bulldozer.

I always saw myself doing the latter because it seemed that causing a disturbance was the only way to make change, whether that change be beneficial or detrimental. This mode of thought is apparent in Edward Abbey’s, “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and within groups like ELF (Earth Liberation Front) and Earth First!, where (sometimes) violent direct action is taken to prevent environmental destruction.

I did not know that peaceful action could be just as, if not more effective as violent action until I learned about people like Vandana Shiva, Rachel Carson, and Arné Naess (to name a few).
The ecofeminist Chipko movement of the 1970s had huge implications for the future of environmental movements. A massive group of women, including the well-known activist Vandana Shiva, joined together and hugged trees to prevent logging companies from continuing their exploitation of the forests.

Carson wrote the historic book, “Silent Spring” in 1962 in which she exposed the dangers of DDT on bird populations. Her command was quiet but unwavering, making her an influential environmentalist that proved peace was powerful. The Deep Ecology movement was started by Naess in the hopes that society will choose to shift away from deep-seated anthropocentrism and instead value “biospheric egalitarianism,” or the belief that everything on the planet is intrinsically valuable – regardless of human perception. The philosophy of Deep Ecology helped form the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Wilderness Act of 1964, as well as foster a sense of respect for the natural world.

An example of a current peaceful environmental/social justice movement is NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline). People of the Sioux tribe started gathering along the Missouri River in 2014 when it was announced that the pipeline originally routed through Bismarck, ND was instead going directly north of the Sioux Reservation. As time passed, people from all around the country, and soon around the world, started coming to help protect the water and highlight historic inequalities facing native populations.

Over Thanksgiving break, I was part of a local caravan of FLC students and community members that drove up to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to bring winter supplies and help around camp. The people who have gathered at Standing Rock call themselves “water protectors” and are dedicated to non-violent direct action with a focus on traditional ceremony and prayer. There is a great sense of community and familiarity at Standing Rock that seems to be a common feeling with visitors. Upon arrival to camp, people greet you by saying, “welcome home” as you pass through a massive dreamcatcher standing in as a gate. There is dance and prayer at all times of the day, starting with the sunrise, and extending long into the night.

The power felt in Standing Rock comes from a need for justice and equality. With the recent change in administration, the future of Standing Rock was unclear. However, last week the main camp was cleared out by authorities. However, just because a movement does not succeed entirely does not mean it was not successful. The movement opened the world’s eyes to what environmental injustice looks like, and it taught us how we can fight oppressive forces in gentle ways. There are still people at Standing Rock trying to make a difference.

We should not stop resisting injustice or stop protecting the earth. Fighting for indigenous rights is not only important, but it is necessary. The future of the earth and tribal lands is precarious, and I encourage you to remain vigilant. If anything is to change, resistance is necessary. There are countless forms of resistance suitable for the participation of all people . . .

Remember Shiva and the women who fought for the forest. They were the first tree huggers. Remember Carson, who saw the natural world changing and decided to do something about it. And remember Naess, who gave us a more holistic way to value nature. We all have the power and the responsibility to change the course of the world. Now is the time to stand up for democracy, for human rights, for love, for environmental protection, for your neighbors, and for the millions of strangers across our shared planet.

Love the Earth, Take Care of the Earth: A Message from the Zero Waste Team

By Jeanett Jansen, Zero Waste Team 

The Environmental Center is constantly challenging students to make the earth a better place one task at a time. That is why we have several different teams focusing on separate missions. The Zero Waste Team – the team I am on – focuses on the idea of reducing first, then reusing, and then recycling. Sometimes there can be a pretty gray area between what can and can’t be recycled and what recycling category it falls under. Even I have trouble with recycling, and its literally my job.

Our Zero Waste Team is working on a campus wide waste assessment to get to the root of our campuses waste problem. The goal is to measure how much recycling is dumped into the trash so we can come up with an achievable solution to reducing waste. I believe the key components to effective environmentalism are:

• Education
• Mindfulness
• Involvement

I try my best to walk the walk, but it is not easy in the world we live in today. Effective environmentalism starts with education. We need the proper knowledge of “how to” in order to make a difference. Guessing which basket to dump your pizza box or coffee cup in will most likely end in contamination (because pizza boxes and coffee cups cannot be recycled). Learn the proper ways to be an environmentalist! Which leads to the next component: mindfulness.

Be aware of what you are buying, consuming and throwing away. Education makes you notice waste and gives you the proper tools to take action, and mindfulness keeps you alert. Now all you need to do is get involved! Come to the EC to get properly educated on environmentalism, and learn how you can get involved! We have several opportunities here to get you connected.

My main job for the Zero Waste Team is managing the Free Store on Thursday’s from 12 – 2 p.m. Participating in this is a great way to reduce waste by keeping the cycle going. It functions on input from donations and output from you all getting FREE STUFF. Last year alone we saved FLC students $3,800 worth of merchandise value and over 600,000 gallons of virtual water from not buying new goods!

Being a good environmentalist doesn’t mean you have to be involved in an extravagant way, but it’s important to realize that small actions can lead to great changes!

Love the earth – take care of the earth.

Ripples in the Water: The Experience of an Environmental Artist

By Hayley Kirkman, EC Artist & Graphic Designer

Taking on a graphic design internship with the Environmental Center was one of the most important decisions of my college career. Not only am I growing personally and professionally in the design realm, but I am learning how to contribute to society and protect our planet.

When you walk into the EC, you instantly feel a vibrant motility from our atmosphere. That vibrancy is attributed to the plants distributed throughout the office, the chipper-ness of the students and staff, and the sunbeams filtering through the neon cube-people I painted on the windows. The energy is always undeniably positive in this space.

Every person that works or volunteers in the EC is passionate and caring. This is not an overstatement. I have yet to meet anyone here who doesn’t possess a genuine eagerness to help the world. We are a diverse team culminating together to bring social and environmental change. Some of us are gardeners. Some are advocates for real and healthy food. Some are energy-savers. Some are recyclers. And some are artists.

I have recently come to the realization that I want to use art to fight for what’s right. I have the ability to convey important messages through imagery, and with that comes a huge responsibility. Through the EC I am learning what it takes to become a thoughtful, environmentally-conscious citizen, and I am relaying those teachings to others. Although my part as a designer here is small, the action is large in scope.

Last semester, I worked on branding the 15th Annual Reel Film Experience and the EC’s 25th Birthday Celebration. I had never branded an event that huge before – it was attended by hundreds of people. The big, green and black Reel collateral I had fussed with for months were suddenly strewn about all over the town in the forms of posters, advertisements and digital media icons; I was elated.

Towards the end of the semester, I decided to hop off the computer and get my hands on some paint. In response to the situation at Standing Rock, I decided to paint people of all different “colors” uniting together in a body of water on the EC windows. From the outside looking in, you are faced with the question, “What do you stand for?” The EC community doesn’t stand for injustice or the destruction of Earth’s valuable resources, and I’m grateful to have been chosen to reflect that in a public space.

This semester, there are a few upcoming events requiring inspiring posters/promotional materials from me. I am also excited to say that the EC may be in the works of getting a “brand rejuvenation”. I can’t divulge any more information, but I can promise that our organization will only continue to grow stronger and more prevalent in the eyes of our community.

There you have it. I am just an ordinary person trying enrich the community and protect the environment in the ways I am able. And you have this ability, too. As Jane Goodall once said, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Real Food Challenge


The Real Food Challenge Team is a part of a national campaign that leverages the power of youth to create a healthy, fair, and green food system. We are working to shift 20% of the money spent on food to products that qualify as Humane, Fair, Local and/or ecologically sound by 2020. With this in mind our Fort Lewis Team is working on education and outreach focusing on what the Real Food Challenge is and why we should choose real, this includes presentations and working on a website that will give students and community members access to information about our efforts. We are also working in partnership with Sodexo to shift what products they buy and training them as to what products count as real under the real food challenge’s qualifications.

I have always been a health nut and I have been a vegetarian for about seven years, so the impact of the food system on the environment has always been something I am passionate about. Working at the EC for the Real Food Challenge has given me a way to reach out to other people and make an impact. Much of the work that I have been doing is communicating with vendors that can increase our real food percentage and working on possibilities for student and community outreach. Through this work I have learned that educating the public about these kinds of problems is very important, it gives them a reason to change their behaviors. When given the opportunity and the information I have noticed that people in our community are willing to change. The Fort Lewis community, though small, has the power to give the world an example of how a community can be conscientious of their impact on the world around them.

Katrina Rachwitz

Real Food Challenge Team

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

Environmental Center 2015 Spring Staff Retreat at Heartwood Cohousing

By: Lexis Loeb, FLC Art Major and EC Real Food Challenge Team Member

EC Staff Retreat_Spring 2015

This past weekend the passionate students and staffers here at the Environmental Center gathered for their Bi-annual staff retreat at Heartwood Co-housing located in the beautiful town of Bayfield. Heartwood is an intentional, off-grid, co-housing community that strives to live in harmony not only with their environment but with their fellow neighbors and community members. The community centers around the organic farm known as Grace Gardens. The diversified vegetable, chicken, and llama farm is located on Heartwood’s communally owned 250 acre property.

The four student teams at the EC (Local Food Security, Zero-Waste, Campus Sustainability and Real Food Challenge) strategized, collaborated and celebrated their current projects and events for the year ahead. Ideas were shared, delicious local food was consumed and boots were stuck as we helped Rachel, the Grace Gardens’ manager, prep for the upcoming spring season.

As a third-year, returning EC staff member, it was my observation that this spring’s staff retreat was extremely pro-active and focused.  There was a spirit of collaboration amongst the teams this year that is going to make for some awesome campus events and pro-active action toward sustainability and social-justice at FLC. With the help and guidance of EC Coordinator, Rachel Landis, and Assistant Coordinator, Erin Murphy we were charged to take up the Spring Semester’s Program Goals:

  • Do less, and do it well
  • Increase/diversify student engagement “beyond the choir”
  • Collaborate and Integrate all EC projetcs

Overall, the Retreat was a nice escape from the chaos of college life and an excellent team-building opportunity to inspire the hard-working, dedicated students at the Environmental Center who are constantly working toward a more environmentally-conscious and socially-just FLC community.

Keep your eyes peeled for some awesome EC events and volunteer opportunities this spring and if you would like to learn more about Heartwood Cohousing visit the link below. A special thanks to Dick Grossman and the Heartwood community for hosting us and showing us around their home!!