Students travel across country on CAUSE trip

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Sean Collins wants his children to inherit a planet with a future, and that’s why he enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Energy and Sustainability Policy, a program offered exclusively online by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences through Penn State World Campus.

He recently participated in a trip to Colorado that helped expand on the curriculum. The trip was organized through the Center for Advanced Undergraduate Studies and Experience (CAUSE) and is open to Penn State World Campus and University Park students.

Collins wanted to be a part of the solution and better the planet for his three kids. He’ll graduate in December, positioned to land a job in sustainability.

“The idea that I was going to leave my kids a planet that was less sustainable and habitable than the one I came into really was a driving force for my career change,” Collins said. “A lot of the sacrifices we’re going to have to make won’t play out in our lifetimes, but they’ll play out in theirs. That really was the North Star guiding my decision.”

Collins said he made a lot of sacrifices to get this far. Fulfilling the study away or internship requirement for his major was made easier through CAUSE, which is a unique center in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences that offers real-world experiences for students over multiple semesters while featuring a concentrated research and travel component that this year was just $500 per student.

Collins and 11 other students, including six from World Campus, got to travel to Colorado to meet some of the current leaders using novel sustainable practices. They met experts and toured facilities in urban and rural food production, “zero waste” policies, solar photovoltaics, ride-share programs, low-impact housing developments, and sustainable brewing practices.

Another World Campus student and energy and sustainability major, Kayla Peate, was excited to see all the sustainability practices related to farming. She raises chickens, pigs, and honeybees on her western New York farm.

“I saw CAUSE as a great opportunity to learn more about sustainability programs already in place in the real world,” Peate said. “As I already have some experience with sustainability when it comes to agriculture, I wanted to broaden my knowledge of other fields, as well, and see if there were ways I could increase the sustainability of my own operations.”

For Peate, the trip showcased the complexity and regionality of some of these sustainability issues. On her farm not far from Lake Erie, water is a precious yet prevalent resource. Not so, she said, on the farms in Colorado that are resorting to clever irrigation techniques to get the most out of each drop.

She’s not sure where she wants her degree to take her, so she enjoyed the wide range of topics the CAUSE trip covered. Seeing things like agrivoltaics at Jack’s Solar Garden — where solar panels complete a symbiotic relationship — was interesting. But learning of sustainability positions at places such as the Denver Zoo made her realize there were opportunities outside of the obvious.

Haley Sankey and Daniel Kasper, both instructors in the ESP program, delivered CAUSE 2022: Applied Sustainability in Colorado. Sankey said it’s structured to create the next generation of leaders in sustainability. In CAUSE, students aren’t just tasked with learning about sustainability, but also with thinking of ways to implement sustainability practices that are affordable and impactful. CAUSE is a chance for students to ground some of their ambitions with reality.

She said these students seem up for the challenges they’ll face.

“The students who enroll in the CAUSE program give me hope for our future,” Sankey said. “They want to do the right thing; they want to make smart decisions; they are already directly being impacted by climate change, and they’re ready to take action.”

Learn more about the energy and sustainability policy programs offered online through Penn State World Campus.