VCSIA Winner — Jessica O’Flaherty
I am passionate about sustainable energy, where I hope to use the experiences and knowledge gained from my degree to enact scientific change in this field. I also believe that societal changes have a significant impact and should not be ignored. This is what led me to sign up for “Engage for Change”. It was an amazing opportunity in which I received the guidance to design, implement and evaluate my own sustainability-related intervention. It was also lovely to meet with other like-minded people and hear all about their backgrounds: what brought them to the programme and the causes they are passionate about.
Concerning the project, my initial objective was to improve management of waste at my own college (Robinson). As a first-year student, I was new to the college; had very little idea of how the college managed this; and who was responsible. Luckily for me, the college had already done so much in this area and the college website’s staff list was a useful resource for contacting stakeholders. Unluckily for me, this fact also meant that I had to think a little harder to find something I could improve upon!
Nevertheless, a simple question did surface: “where are the bins?”. I realised I did not know where to dispose of rubbish outside of general waste and recycling, such as large cardboard and electricals. I could not find anything on the college website. This information was hard to find especially for other students, who do not have the time and patience to research this. This would make it more likely that they put waste in the wrong bin. Waste management is a complicated process, if something goes in the wrong bin initially it could have harmful consequences in the long run. The aim, therefore, was to change this and make such information more accessible to students and staff.
During the project’s development, I was presented with certain problems. The housekeeping manager, Julia Allen, kindly sent me the relevant information in the form of a poster. The obvious choices for displaying this information, like an app or website had to be dismissed because of the subscription costs they incurred. Eventually I realised that the college already had a website and all I would need is the approval to set up a webpage under their domain.
I also understood that to gain the college’s approval I would need to do as much of the work as possible such that all that was required was to put it together and then publish it online. I created multiple visuals; a word document detailing the different kinds of waste and the search results they would yield; and another word document with pictures of the waste bins around the college for references. Despite this, the question of distribution surfaced again. I decided to create a poster. This consisted of a short section of text to explain and, more critically, a QR code for the eventual web page link which could be scanned by anyone with a phone at hand. The QR code was also a good way to capture someone’s attention.
After compiling all this together I asked for Julia’s opinion. Fortunately, she was enthusiastic and helped me with contacting further stakeholders. This is where the project stands today. I now have approval from Kevin Breeze, head of the Sustainability Committee, who is putting this forward for me!
Currently, I am unsure on the impact this project will have as there is no definite measure for its success. Fundamentally, the distribution of proper information is vital. For me personally, getting involved in this other side of university life has been a boost in confidence. I therefore think it is very important for everyone to get engaged with social causes whilst at university. Under the right guidance, it is a brilliant opportunity to open your mind and consider the potential impacts you could have. This project, as an example, shows how even asking a simple question, can open up prospects for improvement.
I was not expecting to be shortlisted for this award, my main objective is to do whatever I can to help this proposal go though. However, I am hopeful that this award has given me the platform to share the project with other colleges who might adopt a similar intervention. I have created templates of which I am eager to share and my CRSID is jo460.
Regarding my next steps, further projects might concern the handling of certain types of waste that do not have designated bins such as pens and pencils. These are plentiful at university. It seems a shame that pens, which contain many different types of materials, are to be left for the general waste bin.