From the Amazon rainforest to the Ohio Wesleyan University Tree House—Melissa Guziak has made the connection.
During spring semester 2011, Guziak, a sophomore from Burlington, Vt., spent two weeks in Brazil studying the rainforest as part of an Ohio Wesleyan travel-learning course. During spring semester 2012, she hopes to use a new OWU Theory-to-Practice grant to enhance the sustainability of the Tree House, a small-living unit that’s home to Guziak and 11 other OWU students interested in environmental issues.
Of her travel-learning course, Guziak says, “This was a powerful experience as I literally saw how my actions impact the world and lives of others.”
And the lessons she learned inspired her to work for change on the OWU campus and in the Delaware community. Her $2,100 Theory-to-Practice grant is being used to fit the Tree House with water-efficient showerheads, faucets, and toilets; provide insulating film to cover the 117-year-old home’s single-pane windows; install grey-water irrigation systems that use sink water to flush toilets; and purchase an indoor compost bin.
“[T]here are many ways of changing a building to be more environmentally friendly, but real impacts are made when people change their mindsets,” says Guziak, a double major in biology and environmental studies. “Educating people, showing them the difference they can make, is essential to getting their support and making change.”
Her project includes plans to hold regular educational open houses to share information about the Tree House’s transformation with the campus community and nearby homeowners.
“The main goal of this project is to have a sustainable showcase to educate the community,” Guziak says. “With updates, additions, and renovations to the house, it can serve as an educational tool.”
Guziak’s Theory-to-Practice grant also was inspired by her internship with Sean Kinghorn, OWU’s energy conservation and sustainability coordinator. Kinghorn is working to reduce Ohio Wesleyan’s environmental footprint by overseeing initiatives such as replacing inefficient light bulbs, programming public printers to default to double-sided printing, and lowering thermostats in unused buildings during winter breaks.
Kinghorn says the Tree House project already is under way, which should make the home more comfortable for its student-residents. “It will be an ongoing project, but we hope to accomplish most of it in the spring,” he says.
Additional projects include installing different types of insulation to determine which provide the greatest benefits. Kinghorn hopes to utilize Plexiglas panels in the walls to allow visitors to see and feel the products used.
Guziak also will compare heat, water, and electric bills from before and after the Tree House upgrades to determine the impact of each change.
“As time progresses, students [will] have a place to test their own ideas and find new ways to live sustainably,” she says. “The Tree House [will] remain for future students and community members to learn from, an example of the university’s goal of educating students to see themselves as part of a greater community that they can impact.”