So began the winning presentation by the Mines team at the first annual Rocky Mountain Honors Symposium, hosted at Mines in April by the McBride Honors Program in Public Affairs.
At first, the other McBride students and I who had collaborated with Angle on the project looked on anxiously. But as Angle hit his stride, we relaxed, the sophomore mechanical engineering major who hails from Mississippi and coaches a high school debate team was clearly not going to let us down.
The objective of the event was to bring together teams of honors students from across the Front Range to deliver presentations about pressing environmental challenges. Using a collaborative voting system, competitors picked which team delivered the most compelling presentation.
In our first meeting, our group decided not just to talk about change; we wanted to make a change happen right here on the Mines campus.
Our goal: Cultivate support for incorporating grey water reuse into future building projects at Mines, and develop a concrete plan for implementing a grey water system. Grey water refers to water collected from showers and laundry facilities, which has low levels of contaminants and is suitable for reuse in non-potable applications like irrigation and toilet flushing. Our survey demonstrated that 95 percent of those knowledgeable about grey water systems approved of their use.
While we were unable to establish firm plans for implementing a grey water system, we were successful in other respects. After speaking with key departments on campus, the city of Golden and President Scoggins, we ultimately obtained a commitment that future building projects at Mines would include studying the feasibility of incorporating grey water reuse systems.
With this part of our goal achieved, we went to work developing a presentation that conveyed both the practicality of grey water reuse and the lessons in engineering and activism that we learned as part of the project.
Awarding Through Consensus
Our competition at the symposium was tough. More than 100 honors students from eight Colorado universities, from Pueblo to Fort Collins, came prepared with excellent presentations that addressed such challenges as food overproduction, wildfire prevention and wasteful electronics design.
The winning presentation was selected by a vote, but there was a unique twist. At the beginning of the day, we had been seated at tables with students from other schools. With the help of a few icebreakers, including a photo scavenger hunt that sent groups of students wandering around Golden, taking pictures in front of the mortuary or handcuffed in front of police cars, groups quickly gelled. Then, after all presentations were concluded, each table cast one vote, forcing us to discuss and evaluate each other’s presentations together. When our team was announced the winner, we walked onto the stage to Queen’s ‘We are the Champions,’ with the audience cheering loudly. Every table had voted for us; it was a great moment.
“All the presentations were amazing,” says Ken Osgood, director of the McBride Honors Program, “but what made the Mines project stand out was that the students didn’t just communicate a challenge; they sought a solution here on our campus.” Although we didn’t accomplish everything that we originally set out to do, we laid the foundation for a progressive shift in construction planning. We made the case that grey water reuse is both doable and desirable. We also learned that making a difference requires slow, patient and persistent work.
Katie graduated in May 2013 is now an environmental engineer with QEP Resources in Denver