Mimi Riley is an instructor of sociology at Butte College outside Chico, California where she has done much to advance the subject of sustainability in higher education. She designed and disseminated campus-wide sustainability education materials as well as aided in the creation of a Sustainability Studies certificate program at Butte. After discovering Bioneers in 2007, Mimi has raise funds for and coordinated the attendance of Butte faculty and students every fall. Mimi has been a Bioneers donor since 2009.
Bill Mckibben awakened me to the urgency of sustainability
I was struck hard by the urgency of Bill McKibben’s words as he addressed the crowd at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference in Tempe, Arizona in October of 2006. As a sociologist, I had built my academic career as a hard-core critic of modern industrial society and its attendant problems. I had been teaching classes in Introductory Sociology, Mass Media and Society, and my coveted Modern Social Problems (a course I subtitled: Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism). In 2006 I was unaware that there were wide ranging and viable solutions to these problems, that a social movement centered on creating and promoting these solutions was sweeping the globe, or that higher education had now assumed a central role in this paradigm shift toward what Alan AtKisson called “the future in a word” – SUSTAINABILITY.
I have faithfully attended the Bioneers Conference every year since 2008
In the spring of 2007, I happened into a fundraising event at our local Women’s Club here in Chico. Each spring they host a Bioneers film series for the public, showing the majority of plenary speeches from the previous fall conference. That next fall semester, I took a group of faculty to the conference and have been taking faculty each year since then. I got a small grant to purchase the entire Bioneers DVD collection and have made this resource available to faculty across our campus. Most of the instructors teaching within the Sustainability Studies program at Butte College have incorporated Bioneers plenary vidoes into their curriculum and students are well acquainted with what and who the Bioneers are before they enter into the capstone seminar for the program which centers on our attendance at the conference in October. I began bringing these capstone students to Bioneers in the fall of 2009.
Attending the Bioneers conference has changed the lives of my students
That first year, I was amazed at the effect the 3-day conference had on these students. They were instantly electrified (current sunlight!), inspired, and motivated to make big changes in their own lives, on our campus and in our community as a whole. I’ll never forget the words and range of emotions these students expressed as they spoke one by one at the dinner table in the big house we all lived in for those 3 days. They were crying, laughing, loving, supporting and bonding with each other in a way that I had never witnessed in my years of teaching. One 24 year-old male student confessed, “I feel like I have been wasting my whole life up to this point hiding behind video games. Now I have been touched and I know that my life must and can count for something way beyond myself”.
Butte College students have been inspired to do amazing things after attending the Bioneers conference
A handful of those who attended in 2009 helped to spearhead an environmental clean-up/restoration project on campus where minority students in math, engineering and science (MESA) wrote a grant and designed the plans to eliminate parking lot contaminants from running into our campus’ wildlife refuge, organic gardens, and water source Clear Creek. Others turned to our food systems on campus and instituted healthy food initiatives through student volunteer coordination in organic gardens on campus, preparing and serving a once-a-month Eat Local vegan lunch to students, staff and faculty, and calling for change in cafeteria purchasing policies which culminated with the hiring of a new organic-minded food services director – a process these students helped to vet. This group also brought aerial artist Daniel Dancer to Chico on 2 occasions; once for a fundraiser for the Chico Earth Flag Project (a group of these students were raising money to purchase 300 Earth flags to be flown during April throughout the City of Chico), and the following fall for Campus Sustainability Day (for an art piece featuring the number 350).
The 2010 cohort was equally affected by their Bioneers experience. Among this group were 4 student officers from the Butte College Associated Students, the President of Associated Students, the Sustainability Director, the Health and Wellness director, and the Diversity director. Five of the 2010 group stayed with me for the Pachamama Alliance’s Awakening the Dreamer symposium. When they returned they claimed the name Sustainabilibuddies and have since spread that name and the philosophy of UBUNTU that goes with it around the country (check out their Facebook page ‘Sustainabilibuddies’). A week after their return, they all participated in a panel discussion of their Bioneers experience for our Campus Sustainability Day, and this was a huge hit, so much so that the College asked them to hold a second panel so that more people would have the opportunity to share their enthusiasm.
The 2010 students have accomplished much in the wake of their Bioneers experience. The majority of these students volunteered for the 5th annual This Way to Sustainability Conference at Butte College/Chico State in November 2010. There they had the opportunity to meet as a group with Deb Rowe (one of our keynote speakers), and she challenged them all to create a national student sustainability initiative. Three took this challenge very seriously and over the course of the next months developed an idea for Camp UBUNTU – an initiative that focuses on the social aspect of sustainability for college students on a national level. UBUNTU has a 5 point set of principles that students involved in sustainability issues vow to uphold: Service, Solidarity, Scholarship, Sustainability, and Spirit.
The first Camp UBUNTU took place in 2011 at Buck’s Lake high in the Sierras. In late spring 2011, some (inspired by the Seed Exchange) have created a community based collaborative organic garden project in a low-income minority neighborhood in Oroville called Pathways to Change. They spent many of their summer hours bringing organic seeds and supplies and teaching organic gardening methods to the residents of that community. Others kicked off an initiative called Gleaning Chico which gathers volunteers to go to orchards and private yards (with permission of course) to gather up fruit and vegetables that are going unused and distribute them to the local homeless shelter. They have linked arms with the California Student Sustainability Coalition and are instituting a chapter of that organization on the Butte College campus this semester. They have traveled all over the state and country to make their voices heard within government about issues such as fracking, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and other fossil fuel policies.
Many members of the first few cohorts of Bioneers attendees are now off at other institutions and taking on leadership roles there, including Prescott College, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, Cal State Humboldt State, Chico State, and Cal State Monterey. They are all matriculating in sustainability related majors like Natural Resource Management, Oceanographic Restoration, Botany, Marine Biology, Psychology and Leadership, and International Relations to name a few. Many are continuing their education at Butte College and are working on exciting new initiatives on campus aimed to further the promise of the Talloires Declaration. Perhaps the most innovative is the push to reorganize the structure of the Associated Students so that sustainability becomes the "lens through which everything else on campus is viewed’’. They are creating a new structural component called the Student Alliance for Sustainability which will sit as an umbrella structure over all the other clubs and will provide the mechanism through which all other clubs can gain political and financial resources linked to sustainability promotion and the glue that will allow all clubs to collaborate together on sustainability issues on campus.
You can join Mimi Riley in supporting the innovative work of Bioneers by making a donation of any amount today. To learn about the various ways you can give, please visit: http://bioneers.thankyou4caring.org/donate