Category: Office Staff

Thank You


As I sit on my 3rd flight within 36 hours, I figured this would be a good of time as any to write my blog post for this semester. This post isn’t about a certain topic or event that I attended, but it’s more of a reflection of my time at the Office of Sustainability. With my classes coming to a close and my internship ending, I wanted to take this time to look back since I will be walking across the cistern in 19 short days.


In early December of 2013, I got an email that would change my life in ways that I had no idea. I had been offered an internship with the College of Charleston’s Office of Sustainability to run the Sustainable Greek Initiative for the following semester, something that fit both my interests and my experience as an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta. I had accepted the position and in January 2014 I started what has become the most amazing journey I have been on. I learned so much my first semester with the office and as it turns out, this sustainability thing is kind of awesome and has captivated me in every sense of the word.


Flash forward to the summer of 2014 when I had finished my first semester working at the Office of Sustainability. I was moving to a new apartment when I found out that we had been accepted to present at AASHE that October in Portland, OR. I’m pretty sure I was shaking when I found out, and rightfully so, AASHE is a BFD. The summer of 2014 I also applied, was accepted to, and attended the Summer Institute on Sustainability & Energy at University of Illinois at Chicago. I won’t go into much detail other than it was probably the best 2 weeks of my life. Not only was I learning about current issues in sustainability and energy in an amazing city, but I made incredible friendships with interesting people from around the country. My blog post from last semester was on SISE and it can be found here.


So now here I am. I’m on a plane flying back to Charleston after being in Chicago to present my research at the 2015 SISE Alumni Spring Symposium. I’ve presented at national conferences, attended amazing lectures, made incredible connections, and all in the past year and a half. 18 months ago I would have never thought I would be searching for jobs in the environmental policy field, let alone be flying to Chicago to present my personal research so I don’t know what my life would look like, or where I would be without the Office of Sustainability. This office has given me the opportunity to grow as a person, a young professional, and as a friend. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined and for that I can only say thank you. Thank you for the constant support and guidance. Thank you for teaching me that failure is an important part of learning, just like coffee. Thank you for helping me find my path and for letting me know it’s okay to wander off that path sometimes. Thank you for the laughs and the stress and the chaos and the experiences. Thank you for giving me a chance.

-Virginia Whorley ’15

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Rage Against the Drying Machines

According to General Electric’s website, clothes dryers are the third most energy intensive appliance found in most homes. While there is large variability in the wattage of dryers, on average they operate using 3400 watts. This is more than your oven! For residents of SC this means nearly $100 every year just to dry your clothes. But believe it or not, SC has one of the cheaper rates in the US. If you lived in Hawaii you would pay over $300 every year. Fortunately, a better alternative exists. This alternative requires no energy input, will make your clothes last longer, and is much cheaper. What is this solution?

A solar clothes dryer.Untitled

I myself have not used a clothes dryer in more than a year. Rather, I purchased a clothesline (550 cord works really well and is around $8 for 100 ft.) and, for indoors, a clothes rack and voilà you have a solar clothes dryer. While it does take a few more minutes to hang dry your clothes than throw them in a dryer, I have come to much prefer their feel and even their smell. Even heavy items like jeans or your bedding can dry within 12 hours 99% of the time. If you’re pressed for space, take advantage of your shower curtain rod or other miscellaneous surfaces around the house.

Save your money, add longevity to your clothes, eliminate a fire hazard, and stop wasting energy doing something that can be naturally done for free. Stop using/don’t buy a clothes dryer. It just makes sense.

-Craig Bennett, Data Manager at the Office of Sustainability

Mindfulness + Sustainability

About a year ago I was on the medical school track until I realized I wanted to see more of the world versus more time studying in a classroom. Medicine is still fascinating to me but it’s not my passion. Then sustainability waltzed on into my life.

At the beginning of Spring 2014, you could have called me sustainability virgin. During that semester I took a course on sustainability with Dr. Brian Fisher and interned at the Office of Sustainability.  When I entered the realm of sustainability, I had an open mind; one could say I was eager to learn. After one semester of an internship and the sustainability course, I had a pretty good grasp on the major goal of sustainability. My personal definition wasn’t as clear to me. What I was clear on is what sustainability did not include reduce, reuse and recycle. Sustainability is a balance between systems. These systems include human and environmental systems. The systems thinking aspect of sustainability can be complex but the general categorization has been helpful for me because although I was not interested in conventional medicine and becoming a doctor, the topic of health never left. When I started visualizing society, as a human system the future was not as limiting and daunting.

I began to realize the human system has multiple facets. A few of them being economic, social, physical, and mental and all of them need to be healthy to be successful. Personally, the word health to me has started to coincide with sustainability. Anyway, I have noticed I have been consistent with yearning to do things that aid in optimizing the physical and mental health of people.


There are several ways to build the mental and physical health of our society and they all coincide with creating a more sustainable environment. Mental health is a topic that has similar “new age” aura around it as sustainability. People are too scared to approach the truths. Mental health has been a apart of my life ever since my father passed away when I was a toddler. After he passed my mom put my sister and I in therapy to “talk about our feelings and help us cope with our fathers’ death properly. Again, I was very young and I don’t remember talking about anything grandeur. Anyway, from that point on I have always been open and honest with myself. It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized how important and healthy it is to be aware of your emotions, how they’re expressed and why. My mom has a case of severe depression and PTSD along with General Anxiety Disorder (according to the DSM V). Growing up and through her adult life, she never talked about her issues. I remember clearly that we were always in therapy but she never went for herself. A lot of events built up and inhibited her to be strong which led to her eventual surrender. As I was walking through Forever 21 sophomore year, I get a call from my sister informing me that my mom was going into an institution. At that time, Conner was a senior in high school and my youngest sister was in 7th grade. Obviously not an ideal time but the timing proved the severity of her depressive state. She arrived at Emory hospital and they had her go through Electric Shock Therapy. The ECT treatment ended up not working because a year later she traveled back to Emory and began ketamine therapy. Which brings us to today. Yes, it is sad but she should be an example to everyone out there: talk about your emotions and be ok with them because not doing so is not sustainable (my mom as exhibit A).

Along with the ketamine treatment, she visits a psychiatrist every week and partakes in mindfulness therapy. At first, and for a WHILE, I was doubtful that breathing a few times a day would improve your mood. And really who has time for it? About a year or so later positive psychology popped up as one of the psychology class options. I decided to enroll because I could tell it was helping my mom a lot but I needed evidence! As the course has gone on I have become less and less skeptical about mindfulness. Honestly, I have started to make a lot od connections between positive psychology and mindfulness. The two work hand in hand. Ok, I know breathing for 10 minutes a day seems useless and why would we do that when we have so many other tasks on our list to do? Well, I thought the same way about 6 weeks ago. Hear me out.

Mindfulness has several forms: yoga, meditation, breathing, and tai chi, just to name a few. Through those practices one can improve physical and mental well being. Mental well being is what will help with sustainability because mindfulness cultivates characteristics such as gratitude, optimism, adaptability, forgiveness, and living with an open mind and living in the moment. If you are in my brain, you are making lists upon lists of examples about how this would help sustainability. I am going to go through a situation in which mindfulness helped me close friend out with sustainability.

My family is a bit confused as to why I have gained interest in sustainability. In their mind I went from Neurosurgeon path to paid hippie. Originally, I got defensive for several reasons. One, my family must not know me because when have I ever exhibited hippie like qualities and two, I knew there was more to the concept than hugging trees (although I find myself unintentionally doing this at times). Anyway, my family has an intense and successful background: bank chief finical executive, board member, highly regarded in their local political system, lawyer, mathematician, professional ballerina and Olympic swimmer. When you have a group like that it’s hard for them to understand. Mindfulness helped me rework through my head and adapt to their perspective. The adaptability mindset that is cultivated allows you to step out of your own head and observe how others are handling the situation without taking judgment, just with an open mind. I realized I needed to explain to them what I am doing in a way that will speak to them. First, I sent them a youtube video about the Office of Sustainability mission along with an article I was interviewed for and by doing so they are now clear on what my idea of sustainability is and that I am working hard at my job (and a campus celebrity J ). Secondly, I am going to send them a note about how I can apply sustainability to any job that I am doing by living according to my values. I want to point out to them that I am not working towards being an environmentalist. My family has worked hard to get to where they are and all they want is the best for me, which mainly means they want me to have a stable financial situation. Third, I would talk with them about the potential jobs I am thinking about (NO CLUE, but they don’t have to know) and their potential income. Lastly, I will ask if they have any questions.

Throughout the process I am exhibiting adaptability and openness along with non-judgment (especially when I am acknowledging that they probably have questions). This is a concrete example but mindfulness itself provides sustainability to the individual through cultivating mental strength. As Garden Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, I have found being in the garden, around green plants oxygenated air and natural aromas is a mindfulness experience in itself. Simply noticing the details around you is a form of mindfulness.

Keep in mind I am NOT a positive psychologist and these are just my observation after 6 weeks in a positive psychology course. There are plenty of studies and accounts that have found empirical evidence supporting mindfulness. Please look into the studies if you are doubtful because the studies are what sway me as well.

Sustainability is complex and can be frustrating…I know. But if you keep an open mind, your head and heart in the moment and take a deep breath, you have no idea what you will be able to achieve!

-Kelsea Sears




SISE 2014: What I learned


In April of 2014 my project advisor at the Office of Sustainability, Ashlyn Hochschild, emailed out several different opportunities to get more involved in the sustainability realm. One of the things listed in the email was the Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy (SISE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a two week intensive for undergraduate seniors, graduate students, and sustainability professionals focusing on renewable energy and the sustainability of those energy practices. Not having anything to lose, I decided to apply.  Fast-forward four months and a very intense application process later I was boarding a 6am flight to Chicago.

SISE provides a unique learning opportunity for the 50-60 people selected to participate every year by combining interesting lectures, unique research projects, and amazing field trips. The lectures we attended were given by some of the top energy and sustainability professionals in the Chicago area with topics that ranged from sustainable airports to batteries to the importance of business and entrepreneurship in the field. Not only did these top professionals lecture us, but also they acted as mentors for the duration of the program.

For the group research project we were given a problem to research and solve in our assigned groups over two weeks relating to the theme of Urban Energy. We were mentored, presented, wrote business plans and what resulted was twelve groups with twelve great ideas. This project gave everyone an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar topic and to gain the experience of accomplishing a large task in a short amount of time while also building our professionalism skills.

The last main learning component of the program is the field trips. We visited a total of three sites in Chicago during our two-week stay: Illinois Institute of Technology, O’Hare international Airport, and Argonne National Laboratory. Each site showed us what sustainability looks like in the real world, specifically the energy field. Between learning about the smart grid technology already available at IIT, the goats and sheep kept at O’Hare, and seeing the Advanced Photon Source and Transportation Labs at Argonne, the participants gained a true understanding of how the world is beginning to make a change towards a more sustainable future.

I knew when I accepted my invitation to attend the fourth annual SISE I would be exposed to new ideas and learn so much from the lectures and field trips, but I would have never expected that I would learn the most from the other participants. Living with 60 strangers for two weeks seems like it could end in disaster, however working, learning and living with everyone 24 hours a day gave me a better understanding of the world and sustainability. When we weren’t in lectures or on trips everyone would go explore the wonderful city we were in. Somewhere between waiting 90 minutes to try Chicago’s famous pizza, stuffing too many people in a sketchy cab, arriving to the park to hear live music about a minute before it ends, finding a random band playing swing music on the sidewalk and dancing with new friends, watching fireworks off Navy Pier, staying up until 6am in the dorm singing in 15 different languages and dancing, having cook-outs, taking too many selfies, seeing the Air & Water Show, playing Cards Against Humanity and Hanabi, and just having wonderful conversations with people, the participants of SISE 2014 became a family.  The feeling I had at

SISE is one I hope everyone can experience at some point in their life. Being in the realm of environmental studies and sustainability comes with a lot of negativity but being surrounded by people who have the same goal of bettering the world, I have never felt more hopeful about the outlook of our existence on this planet.

One the first day of SISE, I walked into aconversation between participants on the physics of the organic chemistry of some type of renewable energy and I thought I was accepted by mistake. That conversation was my first exposure of many to the great minds of chemistry, physics, mathematics, economics, policy, business, geography, architecture, and so much more that made up the participants of SISE 2014 who taught me so much about the world and myself. Three weeks after SISE ended, I still miss the family I gained there, but I know that in our respective areas of the world we will still be working together to make a difference. – Virginia Whorley, Sustainability Intern

In the Garden with Lexa Keane

Spicy Flowers and Bean Sprouts

I think I’m in love.  Our relationship is so fresh and new, I can’t help but get excited thinking about Friday afternoons, and all the other random chances I get to spend time with them.

‘Them’ you ask?? Yes, all the little vegetable and fruit sprouts within the political science urban garden that are pushing so eagerly to meet the sun’s rays.  I find myself retreating to the garden any chance I get, making sure they are watered and nourished.  I’m borderline ‘helicopter mom,’ but their youth calls for extra reassurance and devotion!

One of the many great things about the garden is the constant interaction of people and the natural world, as the garden is a centerpiece in which people gather and exchange stories, thoughts, and a sense of community.  The garden demonstrates not only the physical potential of yielding produce for the local community, but the potential within each of us to flourish and help each other grow as individuals and as a community.  If you think I am romanticizing this garden experience, you might very well be correct in your assumption, but I would argue that this newly cultivated plot of land is something worth celebrating.

Yesterday, after a hectic day and a long week, I retreated to the garden to harvest some lettuce, spinach and basil for a tasty salad to share with a good friend of mine.  After plunking my heavy book bag down, I assessed the growing sprouts, and watered them while talking with some faculty members.  The conversations extended past the garden, and into realms of personal interest and funny stories of the week.  The garden is a platform for uplifting experiences, whether gathered around the actual garden, or sharing the vegetable goodness for dinner with a near and dear friend.