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Green Chemistry Class Tours the Sustainable Features of Campus

The recent unveiling of sustainNU’s Evanston Campus Sustainability Map has created a unique opportunity for students to interact with their surroundings on campus. This May, students in Dr. Owen Priest’s Green Chemistry course participated in a campus tour that was inspired by the sustainability map. The campus tour is an example of the type hands-on learning that sustainNU’s new Experiential Learning Program aims to facilitate by connecting students, faculty, and staff with opportunities to utilize the campus as a learning resource.

The class that participated in the tour is made up of nine students studying chemistry from an environmental perspective. The students were guided by tour leader Dr. Shelby Hatch, who is the director of the Undergraduate General Chemistry Laboratory and a strong advocate for sustainability at Northwestern.

The students visited the grassy space between Silverman Hall and Ryan Hall to learn about the 37,000-gallon rainwater-harvesting cistern located there underground. The cistern captures rainwater from the roof of Silverman Hall and uses it to irrigate landscaping in the area.

Next, they headed inside the building to discover how chemistry labs are designed with modular fixtures so that their components can easily be repurposed when the lab space becomes inactive. On the final stop of the tour, the students visited Kresge Centennial Hall and learned about the solar panels that were installed on the roof as part of the recent renovation of the building. They discussed the benefits and challenges of solar energy production in the Midwest.

The tour provided the students with a new perspective on campus and the way it serves the Northwestern community. This use of the campus as a learning space also creates an important connection between students’ coursework and the space in which they learn. The Experiential Learning Program was created to foster these connections. The program focuses on using the campus itself as a tool for teaching.

In addition to supporting sustainability tours, the Experiential Learning Program will help catalyze several student-driven solutions for campus. For example, a group of students from a McCormick School of Engineering Senior Design course conducted a feasibility study on the expansion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure on campus. Facilities Management will use the results in planning infrastructure upgrades.

The Experiential Learning Program is also supporting House by Northwestern, a student group that is designing and building a solar house to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The program has connected the group with resources and expert advisors to help them complete the project and identify a location for the finished structure. The Experiential Learning Program is guided by a working group made up of students, faculty and staff. The group plans to expand opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to make use of the campus as a learning environment. To get involved in the working group or to learn more, please contact Kathia Benitez, Sustainability Director at