Schiller Support for Student Sustainability Competitions

by Stephanie M. McPherson

Boston College’s undergraduate student government (UGBC), in collaboration with the Schiller Institute, Carroll School Undergraduate Office, and Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics, will host a competition for actionable sustainability solutions for the BC campus this spring. The inaugural Eagles Sustainability Competition invites interdisciplinary teams of students to create zero waste solutions for Boston College game days. Teams with the top three solutions will receive a cash prize, and the grand prize winners will see their solution potentially implemented on campus.

“Students are often looking for a way to have their voices heard and to influence campus,” says Giovanna Eichner, UGBC Director of Environmental Sustainability. “Keeping the focus on students that know BC really well and know what it’s like to be on campus will lend itself to some really great answers on how to implement environmental change.”

The application deadline is Monday, February 20. Interdisciplinary teams of three to four students will receive the details of the case to be addressed in late February, giving them a little more than one month to prepare their recommendations before the live presentation and judging on Friday, March 31. 

Between those dates, the competition committee is sponsoring a number of events to support participants in crafting their proposals, including a research information session hosted by a team of librarians and access to faculty from various departments to answer questions. The committee organized these events hoping to make the competition feel accessible to students who have never tried something like this before. 

“For the issue of sustainability, having students with different academic backgrounds come together is so important, because they have such different perspectives within their own academic disciplines,” says Eichner “But a case study can be very intimidating, so we’re trying to open up who can participate by providing a lot of resources.” 

The idea for BC’s spring competition grew out of a call for applications to a similar sustainability-based case competition hosted at Boston University during the Fall ’22 semester. The BU competition focused more broadly on sustainability solutions for the greater Boston area, and so opened their competition up to area schools. 

“When I first got the case from BU it was asking for a very interdisciplinary team. So my first thought was to reach out to Schiller because I had seen their director Laura Steinberg talk about how she wanted more collaborations across BC campus,” says Josephine Xiong, Associate Director, Undergraduate Program, Carroll School of Management. 

The Schiller Institute sent the opportunity out to students who had previously shown interest in Schiller’s mission, and eventually assembled three teams to participate—one of which advanced to the semi-finals. 

Round one of the BU competition focused on ideas to help Zero Waste Boston meet its targets. Round two asked participants to come up with waste-reduction solutions for what’s known locally as Allston Christmas—the late August/early September influx of used furniture on sidewalks that comes with apartment move dates. 

Ogonna Hilary Nwainya, a PhD Candidate in the Theology Department with a focus on environmental ethics, was part of the semi-finalist BC team. Since the majority of his work focuses on international issues, he appreciated the opportunity to think local. 

“Sometimes in the academic world you can get narrow minded. There is that danger of talking about everything that is happening elsewhere except in your neighborhood,” he said. “It helped me get grounded in Massachusetts laws, in the Zero waste effort of Boston, and to grasp some of what is happening around me in terms of the environment, here at BC or elsewhere.”

“Both the BU competition and the BC competition it inspired have a strong focus on interdisciplinarity and addressing challenging, environmental problems," says Greg Adelsberger, Director of Finance and Operations for the Schiller Institute. "They're perfect projects for Schiller’s involvement, and we're so glad that Josephine and the students from UGBC reached out about collaborating on them.”

The Environmental and Sustainability division of UGBC has previously co-hosted initiatives with Schiller including a program on environmental justice, so it was a partnership they knew they could trust. 

“Something I really value in working with Schiller is that they all let us have a seat at the table, and helped us make the decisions and make things happen,” says Eichner. 

Encouraging cross-departmental participation gives students the opportunity to learn about this critical issue of sustainability while they still have the excellent resources of Boston College at their fingertips. The hosts of the competition hope that learning how to successfully implement climate solutions now will help students make real impacts when they go into the working world. 

“I personally don't know a lot about economics and other things that the business school students are taught, but this kind of event gives me the opportunity to learn,” says Elizabeth Healy, a member of the Environmental Sustainability team of UGBC and an organizer of the Eagles Sustainability Competition. “As we move on and the problem continues to escalate, no matter what industry you work in, somehow or some way it’s going to affect your life and work. Starting to learn on a smaller scale at BC is just so important.” 

Students interested in participating in the Eagles Sustainability Competition can learn more here.