UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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U.S. Election Casts Shadow Over Marrakech

As a contingent of UConn students, faculty, and staff arrived at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, it became clear that, although they were more than 3,000 miles away from home, the uncertainty and concern surrounding the recent U.S. election were being felt just as strongly. The following blog posts were submitted by members of the UConn contingent, detailing their experiences at COP22 in light of the recent election:

The World Without U.S. Mark Urban

An Uncertain Future Ben Breslau

UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener Kristin Burnham

Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy Klara Reisch

Since these blogs were written, President-elect Trump has moderated his position, and stated that he is “open-minded” about the Paris Agreement; however, Myron Ebell, a vocal climate change skeptic for many years, remains in charge of the President-elect’s EPA transition team.

 

The World Without U.S.

Mark Urban, Biologist, Associate Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” a taxi driver said as he weaved through the tangle of motorbikes, pedestrians, donkey carts, and buses clogging the streets of Marrakech, Morocco. I flinched when he slammed on the brakes or accelerated through precarious gaps in the traffic. He was talking about U.S. President-elect Trump. He was trying to make me feel better even though the world was a very different place than it was just one year ago.

Last December, the world met in Paris for the 21st meeting of climate delegates to the United Nations, or COP21 for short. The world agreed to try to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above preindustrial temperatures. The Paris Climate Agreement exceeded expectations. The world and the UConn delegation celebrated in the streets of Paris. Some of our faculty and staff cried tears of joy when they heard the news.

Last year’s COP21 was one of shining optimism. This year’s COP22 in Marrakech was one of gritty determination. If the Paris COP was a flute of French champagne, the Marrakech COP was a can of warm Casablanca beer.

Already the promises of just a year ago are fading. The world hasn’t figured out how to implement the lofty goals of the Paris accords. Whereas President Obama helped lead the fight against climate change, his successor threatens to withdraw.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor market

Against this backdrop, our second UConn delegation of undergraduates, faculty, and staff flew to the highlands of central Morocco. Marrakech, an ancient center for African trade, religion, and culture, provides the nexus for protecting all those things from a changing climate. Just beyond the ancient Jemaa el-Fnaa outdoor bazaar and outside the high pink walls of the Kasbah, the massive white tents of COP22 rose from a flat field. Out front, flagpoles of the world skewered the big African sky.

Like in Paris, we watched panel discussions about everything from the economy of climate adaptation to the sustainable development of Africa. We visited the government and corporate solutions tent, where new electric cars and photovoltaic cells shimmered under LED lights. We visited the stands of non-profit groups, cities, countries, and regions from around the world to hear about their climate solutions. The Nordic countries’ booth was expansive, white and clean. The African section was bright and welcoming. The Dutch offered a full bar, proudly extolling the ‘Dutch Approach.’ But I never found the US booth.

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John Kerry on the small screen

The US did take the center stage at the conference when US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an impassioned argument for continuing to address climate change. Not managing to talk our way into the tight security of the UN blue zone, a group of us watched Kerry’s address to the assembled diplomats on an Iphone propped against a water bottle in an expat hotel. He was not speaking to the world, but to his country. Quoting Winston Churchill, Kerry said “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”

The white, blubbering specter of a Trump presidency sapped strength from world efforts. Yet, I returned more optimistic than when I arrived. The world ratified the Paris Agreement more quickly than ever thought. Cities around the world are advancing toward carbon neutrality. Businesses are developing clean technologies because they recognize that efficiency is good business. The world reconfirmed its commitment to addressing climate change. A large banner on the last day proclaimed “We Will Move Ahead!”

Maybe the taxi driver was correct. Maybe it won’t be so bad. The world is united against the climate threat, even if our government is not. The world will lead, even if the US will not.

 

An Uncertain Future

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

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The UConn contingent arriving at Marrakech

As we flew into Morocco, my mind raced. Like many of my environmentally conscious peers in the United States and beyond, I was still in shock from the previous week’s presidential election. Among his many campaign promises, President-elect Trump has spoken of promoting policies that would be disastrous to the national and global environment. He has discussed reinvigorating the coal industry, which will translate into massive health hazards for the people of Appalachia. He has also proposed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency has improved countless lives by directly reducing the amount of pollutants in our nation’s rivers, air and soil. He has also suggested opening up our National Parks to private industries for exploitation. This would not only severely damage America’s tourism industry, but it would also destroy unique and irreplaceable ecosystems. And most dangerous of all, he is seriously considered abandoning the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Since the United States is Earth’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter (and may again become the largest as China seeks more renewable energy), this could mean that our country, which stands as a beacon for freedom around the world, may irreparably contribute to the largest global crisis in our generation.

Needless to say, I was less than optimistic before we touched down in Africa. I felt something that others less privileged than myself have felt for years or even decades: a strong sense of disillusionment and betrayal towards the officials that are supposed to represent the interests of ALL Americans.

 

UCONN@COP22: The Trump Opener

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

The Trump Opener: A cultural phenomenon observed at COP22 in which, once the nationality of a U.S. citizen is established, the opening remark of the conversation is about President-Elect Donald Trump.

“You know I’ve never met a Trump supporter,” Mostafa, a well-spoken, twenty something journalist from Cairo tells us as we wait for the bus from the Green Zone back to the hotel.

We comment that people who voted for Trump don’t come to climate change conferences, or to developing countries for that matter. The statement is laced with condescension, the implicit message clear: they don’t know better because they haven’t seen the things we have, they don’t know the things we know.  It’s how we explain their seemingly inexplicable choice.

Rich Miller, from the UConn cohort comments that it’s interesting how close the rest of the world followed the U.S. election. Mostafa replies, “We’re all stakeholders – your elections affect us as much as they affect you, maybe even more.” And, to some degree, he is right. For better or worse, the U.S. is a global superpower. Our foreign policy brings not only humanitarian aid and other resources to developing nations, but also, all too often, our soldiers, our missiles, and our carbon emissions, which travel far beyond our borders.

Mostafa explains that he sympathizes, comparing many Egyptians’ dislike for their President of the past two and-a-half years, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to many Americans’ dislike of Trump. “I was a part of the Arab Spring,” he tells us. With pride and eloquence he says that our generation is more connected than ever before: How incredible it is that we can know the story and thoughts of a 16 year old girl in Palestine, a 41 year old man in Iraq… or a 20 year old girl from Connecticut.

kristin-mitigation-2There is a lull in the conversation. Ben Breslau, a fellow student from the UConn group, asks “So what do we do?” Mostafa emphatically replies, “You wait. Please wait.  You do nothing. You have patience,” almost pleading for the new US administration to stand behind the Paris Agreement, reached just last year at the historic COP21.  He cares what we do. He cares because it affects him too.

It’s not just what the president does that has a global impact. It’s what we all do. It’s the votes we cast, the revolutions we start, the passion of our convictions, and the causes we choose to champion.

A few minutes later we meet a delegate from Turkey, “You’re from America? I was here [at the conference] as the election results were coming in.” He says people cried and scheduled talks were abandoned to discuss instead the potential devastation Trump’s environmental policies could have on the world.

I hope that no matter what Trump does, no matter how drastic or inflammatory, we, as a country, can be more than his actions.

Let’s use the overwhelming feelings of frustration and helplessness to create a better United States. Let’s treat each other with more kindness. Let’s use the outrage and fear that surround Trump’s election to be a catalyst for change. Let’s join together to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses.

If we can’t take pride in our President, let us instead create a culture, country and carbon footprint we can be proud of.

 

Hoping for a Better Donald: What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

klara-human-rightsI shuffled in and out of shops trying to find a souvenir in Marrakech when one merchant turned to me, chuckled and asked “you voted for Trump?” I was confused and slightly embarrassed that this election was following me deep into the Souks of the Medina, but I was not surprised. In fact, before that encounter, most panel discussions I attended at COP22 mentioned the election results back home, which named Donald Trump as our president-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump argued that climate change is merely a hoax spurred by the Chinese and criticized the United States for spending money on environmental initiatives to minimize its effects. He had threatened to dismantle last year’s landmark Paris Agreement, and Trump and revoke the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for a decrease in carbon emissions from power plants.

klara-human-rights-2Either way, this election left many delegates and panelists concerned and unsure about the future of our world. I spoke with a panelist from GIZ, Klaus Wenzel, about the U.S.’s resistance of climate change policy. He talked about how workers are concerned about how they will be affected by this transition to things like clean energy. “People are afraid,” he said. “People are afraid of what this means for their jobs.” One of Trump’s main issues with renewable energy is that it is too expensive. Wenzel argued that although the return on investment takes time, renewable energy decreases the amount of air pollution and green house gas emissions, both of which have major effects on the environment and human health. “What is the worth of a premature death?”

Of course, no one knows for sure what this election means for the United States and the rest of the world, but I heard opinions expressed by both sides in various panel discussions at COP22. Some said that the United States would not back out because of the geopolitical and trade implications, while others believe that the U.S. may step out of the game and perhaps force other countries to step up.

Hopefully, enough people will speak out against Trump’s environmental policies. If our president will not fight on our behalf, we will have to.


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2013-16 Environmental Leadership Awards

20161025_ELA_056.jpgThis past week, members from across the UConn community attended a very special ceremony. For the first time since 2012, UConn held the Environmental Leadership Awards (ELAs). These awards were presented to those who have gone above and beyond to promote sustainability in their field.

The event took place on Tuesday, October 25th, in the UConn Foundation Building, where more than 80 guests, including the winner and finalists of each category, were in attendance. They were given time to network and enjoy breakfast prior to the ceremony.

The ceremony began with a welcome from Scott Jordan, the University’s Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer. He congratulated the UConn community as a whole, and thanked those in attendance for helping to make the university a leader in environmental sustainability.

Scott Jordan ELAs.pngVice President Jordan’s introduction was followed by a brief address from Dr. Gene Likens. Among many achievements, Dr. Likens has published over 450 scientific papers on the ecological health of lakes, forests, and other environments. He is most renowned for his contributions to the discovery and remediation of acid rain throughout the 1970s and beyond. He now serves as UConn’s Special Environmental Advisor to the President. Dr. Likens emphasized the importance of community-wide dedication to environmental protection, and gave an anecdote about a Canadian town’s successful efforts to remediate a woodland polluted by copper smelting.

Following, OEP Director Rich Miller and Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Munro called up the winner and finalists for each category, and summarized each person’s or group’s accomplishments. Those recognized were selected by members of UConn’s Environmental Policy Advisory Council (EPAC) from a pool of over 40 nominations.

The 2013-2016 ELA winners are:

Emily McInerney Undergraduate: During her time at UConn, Emily worked at the Office of Environmental Policy, served as President of both EcoHusky and ECOalition, and conducted independent research on the relationship between climate change and wetland health.

Dave Wanik Graduate: Dave conducts research on the impact of wind on electrical power utilities, and developed a model to predict these outages. He is also a member of EPAC, and helped found the Eversource Energy Center.

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Photo taken by Jeff Gonci

NEMO Rain Garden Outreach Team: Michael Dietz and Dave Dickson developed an application to educate people on construction of raingardens in association with the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officers (NEMO) Program.

Spring Valley Student Farm Student Group: This farm is largely student operated. Crops are harvested and sent to several places on campus. The organization also hosts student volunteers on Farm Fridays, and promotes sustainability through their solar thermal greenhouse system and aquaponics system.

Dining Services Group: Dining Services’ staff have actively promoted sustainable innovation in the university’s dining halls. So far, five dining halls have been Green Restaurant Certified, and Dining Services plans to certify all of UConn’s halls in near future.

Julia Cartabiano Staff: Julia is the Manager of Spring Valley Student Farm, as well as a program organizer for EcoHouse. She organized the “Just Food! Or Is It?” symposia and Insect Wonders at the Farm program.

Christopher Mason Environmental Partner: Chris has contributed lots of time and effort to promoting the health of the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP). He participated in the annual BioBlitz, led trail maintenance groups, and promoted invasive species removal.

Dr. Michael Dietz Alumni: In addition to developing the Nemo Rain Garden App, Dr. Dietz has served as an educator in many UConn programs. He leads tours of Low Impact Development Sites around campus, and teaches high school students during the summer at the Natural Resources Conservation Academy.

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Photo taken by Jeff Gonci

Dr. James O’Donnell Faculty: Dr. O’Donnell is the Executive Director of the CT Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation. He also serves on the CT Council on Environmental Quality and the Governor’s Council on Climate Change. Dr. O’Donnell also conducts research on oceanography and rising sea levels.

Dr. Cameron Faustman and Jillian Ives Special Recognition: This award was presented for the recent Huskies Ending Food Waste initiative. Several lectures and events were organized to promote reduction of food waste in daily life.

 


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EcoHusky and EcoHouse “Race” to Recycle and Compost

group-photoOver 30 members of EcoHusky and the EcoHouse learning community got up bright and early on Saturday, October 8th, to volunteer at the Hartford Marathon in Bushnell Park. After a quick power nap on the bus, volunteers were ready for a day of excitement, positivity, and environmental awareness. Upon arrival at Bushnell Park in Hartford, volunteers mapped out the best locations for compost and heatsheet bins, as their primary responsibility for the day was to manage the waste stations throughout the park to ensure that runners and race-goers correctly disposed of food, recyclables, and foil blankets.

The Hartford Marathon Foundation has expressed strong interest in environmental initiatives over the years, with compost management as a top priority on the day of the event. Their composting partner is the KNOX Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with residents, businesses, and government to make Hartford more sustainable. This year, all of the food items on the race menu were compostable, including the soup, fruit, deserts, plates and napkins. The Marathon planners were also conscious in their other purchasing decisions, as the cups provided at the drink stations were recyclable as well.

waste-stationThe Marathon’s efforts to reduce waste at the event are commendable; however, it was up to the volunteers from EcoHusky and EcoHouse to ensure that those efforts were seen through. Composting and recycling can have such positive waste diversion impacts, but only if the items are separated into the correct bins. Not only did volunteers ensure that this was done at the event, they also educated race-goers about recycling and composting so they could be more sustainable in their daily lives. Additionally, they tracked the bags of compost, weighing hundreds of pounds over the course of the day.

“I definitely thought the volunteers had a positive impact on the people attending the Marathon. Most race-goers were eager to learn, asking us questions to make sure they were throwing their waste out in the appropriate bins.” -Eddie McInerney, EcoHusky member

In addition to manning the waste stations throughout the park, EcoHusky also had an environmental awareness tent, with an interactive basketball and recycling-themed game that encouraged players to think about what items are recyclable, compostable, and trash, then throw the items into the correct basketball hoops.

ecohusky-table“Race-goers were attracted to the EcoHusky tent because of its peculiar set up – needless to say, no one else had a conglomeration of “waste” items and handmade basketball hoops scattered around their table. For such a simple and low budget idea, we still managed to make a big impact with the people we spoke to.” -Katie Main, EcoHusky Treasurer

Each year, members of EcoHusky and EcoHouse refer to the Hartford Marathon as one of their favorite volunteer events. The positive atmosphere surrounding the marathon, and the receptiveness of the race-goers to the message about sustainability, consistently leave the volunteers feeling both cheerful and optimistic.


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NextGen and Putnam Dining Hall “LEED” the Way to a More Sustainable Campus

“The green features at NextGen Hall separate it from other residence halls because they show initiative. The university is investing in renewable, sustainable, and efficient practices, which is great for our environment.” – Cassidy Cooley, Sophomore, Management and Engineering for Manufacturing

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NextGen Hall’s solar thermal panels and green roof

As students arrived on campus for the fall semester, one of the greatest changes recognized was the newly opened NextGen Residence Hall. Construction of the new building began last November, as part of the Next Generation Connecticut Initiative, alongside a significant renovation project at Putnam Dining Hall. Both projects were unique in that they included many sustainable features, and received LEED Silver certifications. LEED-certified buildings are known for their efficiency with respect to water, energy, and greenhouse gas emissions, attributed to their carefully considered building and interior designs.

NextGen Hall is innovative in both design and concept. Unlike any residence hall in UConn’s history, it houses 8 Learning Communities, one on each floor, and the design of the building is focused on providing ample community spaces and opportunities for collaboration and innovation among its residences. Great examples of this are the 1,500 square foot maker space and idea lab, which encourage craftsmanship and creativity.

“[The design of NextGen] instills a sense of community…” – Caroline Anastasia, Sustainability Intern

Some of the more prominent green highlights of NextGen Hall are the green roof garden and solar heating panels; however, there are many hidden features of NextGen Hall that also contributed to its LEED Silver certification. Sun shades found on the sides of the building are architectural elements that can either deflect direct sunlight to maintain cool internal temperatures, or catch the light and concentrate it inside the building to warm internal temperatures and provide better natural lighting. The light color of NextGen Hall’s roof plays a similar role in reflecting sunlight to maintain internal temperatures. Surrounding rain gardens are an example of low impact development landscapes that collect rain water to reduce runoff. The contents of rain gardens are typically native plants and soils that enhance infiltration and capturing of pollutants. Inside the building students will also find water refill stations, thermostats that monitor when windows are opened, low flow water features in the bathrooms, and an energy dashboard on the first floor that allows residents to monitor the building’s energy usage.

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Putnam Dining Hall “Living Wall”

NextGen Hall wasn’t the only new green project on campus this semester; neighboring Putnam Dining Hall underwent a major renovation this past year, earning a LEED Silver rating for its building interior. Notable features of the new dining hall include the “Living Wall” of herbs and EnviroPure food waste disposal system, among others. Putnam Dining Hall is also Green Restaurant Certified, which means it met performance standards in areas including water efficiency, waste reduction, sustainable food, reusables and environmentally preferable disposables, as well as chemical and pollution reduction.

NextGen Hall and Putnam Dining Hall now stand alongside a growing number of green buildings at UConn, including Laurel and Oak Hall, the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center, and the Burton-Shenkman Football Complex. With a LEED Gold minimum standard for all new buildings and large renovations, UConn is projected to become even more sustainable as it continues to grow.


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Zipcar Arrives at UConn!

zipcar_2Living at UConn Storrs without a car can be challenging if you are a student that likes to adventure off campus. Even the simplest trips can be difficult. Living in an apartment, I have found that I often need to rely on friends to drive me to the grocery store. Luckily, a new alternative to having a car on campus just came to UConn! Zipcar, a car-sharing service, arrived on campus this fall.

Zipcar allows students, faculty, staff, and community members to reserve cars on an hourly basis. There are currently 10 vehicles parked in several designated spots around campus. These locations include Northwest and Towers Residence Halls, Whitney Road, the Field House, and the Nathan Hale Inn. These cars are available 24/7, and after paying a $15 membership fee, can be reserved for as little as $7.50 per hour or $69 per day. After the first year, the annual membership fee increases to $25. The cost includes insurance, gas, and up to 180 miles of driving per day. Another attractive feature of this program is that unlike traditional car-rental, many of which have age limits between 21 and 24, the age limit for membership for this service is 18 for UConn students, faculty, and staff, and 21 for local community members.

This car-sharing service provides a new option for students who do not have cars or cannot afford to have a car on campus. The cheapest resident student parking permit costs $122 for the year and only allows you to park in C Lot, one of the farthest parking lots from the campus core. Additionally, Zipcar represents a more sustainable option for students wishing to travel. Car sharing is an alternative form of transportation that allows for fewer cars to be driven on campus. According to Zipcar’s website, each Zipcar covers the transportation needs of about 40 of their members, and surveys show that 1 in 4 members said they would have bought a car if they had not had the option of using Zipcar. This represents a significant number of cars not on the road. In this way, car sharing has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because fewer students may bring cars to campus in light of this option. Furthermore, this may reduce the need for parking spaces on campus, and Zipcar could act as a Low Impact Development, or LID, feature by reducing runoff. Thus, having this new car-sharing service at UConn will not only give students the option to be more independent, but also allow them to reduce their environmental impact.

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Personally, I used Zipcar just this past week, and I found the process easy to navigate. After reserving a car using the Zipcar app on my cellphone, I was able to get the car at the parking lot in front of the UConn Field House, and drive from there. I unlocked the car using my Zipcard, which was sent to me in the mail. The actual car keys are left in the vehicle. The Zipcard is used to pay for gas, so that you do not have to pay for gas out of your own pocket. The car that I drove was clean and new, and my trip was smooth. When I had finished with my travels, I simply returned the car to the place where I had found it (a spot clearly marked where only Zipcars are allowed to park), left the keys in the car, and locked the car using my Zipcard. A few hours later, I received an email with trip details and the total cost.

I found my Zipcar experience to be very convenient, and I would recommend it to anyone who does not have a car and is looking to make a quick trip to the grocery trip, visit a friend, or go on an adventure. Along the way, you can feel good knowing your decision will help our community reduce its carbon footprint, and make UConn a more sustainable place to work and play!

Click here to join Zipcar!

-Jessica Griffin and Matthew McCann, Sustainability Interns


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10th Annual EcoMadness Competition!

This week marks the beginning of the Tenth Annual EcoMadness Competition! Over the month of October, students in over twenty residence halls will be competing to reduce their water and energy consumption.

There are four categories to measure the dorms’ progress:

  • Per Capita Water Reduction
  • Per Capita Energy Use Reduction
  • Percent Water Reduction
  • Percent Energy Use Reduction

To reduce their dorm’s energy and water consumption, students undertake a variety of tasks. Energy can be saved by using desk lamps with LED bulbs, unplugging devices when not in use, and washing clothes with cold water. Water can be saved by taking shorter showers, doing laundry with full loads, and shutting off the sink while brushing teeth.

These simple activities have reduced some residence halls’ energy and water consumption by as much as 35%!

To lead their dorms to victory, the Office of Environmental Policy calls on residents to volunteer as EcoCaptains. These students post fliers and posters around their residence halls, organize activities, and provide weekly updates to the OEP on how the dorms are doing.

The winning dorm for each category will receive a certificate and a free ice cream party in November featuring Dairy Bar Ice Cream!

Find out more about EcoMadness here!

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UConn COP 22 Marrakech Climate Change Conference

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Trip Description

COP 22 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be held this year in Marrakech, Morocco from November 7th to November 18th, 2016. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. The objective of COP 22 is to make the voices of vulnerable countries to climate change heard and will be one of action.

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Marrakech from November 13th – November 18th to attend events centered on the conference. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco.

This application must be completed and submitted to envpolicy@uconn.edu by 11:59pm EST on Monday, October 10th in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided.

Clerical

  1. Do you have a passport that is valid through April of 2017?
  2. What is your cumulative GPA? (3.0 minimum requirement)
  3. What is your major and minor (if applicable)
  4. What is your expected date of graduation?
  5. How many credits have you completed?
  6. Please list any relevant student leadership activities (e.g., service hours, officer position in clubs, etc.)
  7. How did you hear about this program?

Requirements

  1. Write one 600-word essay on the following topic:
    • Describe what you hope to share with the UConn community from your COP 22 trip. Examples include participating and presenting in a conference, presenting what you learned to a class, etc. These goals should be attainable and reasonable. Essay should also include how this trip will be beneficial to your future career.
  2. List the contact information for three academic or employer references (at least one must be an academic reference).
  3. Attach a one-page copy of your current resume to this application.
  4. During AND after your trip, you must develop a series of blogs and social media posts pertaining to COP22.