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April 21, 2020

Alexa Marsh: Improving safety and sustainability on campus

Alexa Marsh is a senior majoring in environmental studies and sustainability and minoring in entrepreneurship and innovation. She is president of the Sustainable Spartans club, which seeks to research and implement technology and educational programs that promote a more sustainable MSU.

With graduation around the corner, I’ll be leaving behind what has been my home for the last four years. As I reflect on my time at MSU, the most transformational experience I’ve had is as a leader of the Sustainable Spartans club.

We have led multiple sustainability projects around campus for six years, including installing a solar-powered picnic table near Case Hall and energy-saving lights in the Business College Complex. Serving as a project manager last year and finishing out my senior year as the club’s president has been an honor and an amazing learning opportunity for me.

Last year, our club received a $25,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company Fund through the College Community Challenge to install solar lights on bus shelters around campus. The goal of our project is to increase safety on campus, show students the possibilities of renewable energy and to encourage students to use more public transportation.

We partnered with MSU Sustainability, Infrastructure Planning and Facilities and the Capital Area Transportation Authority to make this dream come true. During the first half of the project, we conducted outreach with partners, decided which companies to buy the solar lights from and sent out surveys to the student body to inform our decision of where to install the lights.

While our project has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, we were fortunate that many of the lights were installed this winter. Ultimately our project will result in nine stops having improved, solar-powered lighting around campus.

I’m beyond proud of what this project has brought to my club members and our campus thus far. There have been so many learning moments throughout this process that I know will shape the path of my future career. This project has taught me everything from project management and administration to budgeting and communication.

Our club had never dealt with a project on this scale, and I’ve learned that there WILL be bumps in the road that you have to navigate. Some strategies I’ve learned to overcome them include getting a head start and paying close attention to the project timeline. Being flexible and adaptable have been essential, especially when trying to close out the project during a pandemic. Even though we faced challenges, I’m proud of how the project turned out and how we handled ourselves.

This experience has also taught me a lot about how to communicate with stakeholders. Because many of our partners are donating their time, it’s extremely important to consider how valuable their time is and to make every minute in every meeting count. I’ve learned that straightforward communication is important, and participants can’t be left wondering what their job is at the end of a meeting.

Finally, this process has taught me about accountability. As a student, if I fail a class or don’t do my homework, that just affects me. While I care deeply about excelling for myself, this project holds me accountable to others. If I fail at a task, it affects our whole crew.

This pressure can be a little intense, but it is extremely relevant to the real world, and it has given me a good idea of what it's like to manage a real team and ensure that I am ready to tackle a real job when I graduate.

The Ford Motor Company Fund has given me and my club so many learning opportunities that I know will carry on into our future careers. I am so grateful for the project’s co-manager and Sustainable Spartan’s Vice President, Ethan Jodoin. He has been instrumental to the success of the project.

We also couldn’t have done this without our Sustainable Spartans team. Words can’t explain how much I appreciate our partners too: thank you MSU Sustainability, IPF and CATA for going above and beyond for us. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, but it’s really rewarding to be ending my senior year knowing that we’ve helped contribute to making MSU more sustainable.