Thursday, September 25, 2008

Students flip at Flip-A-Cup Project

The free use of green plastic travel mugs to hold your hot beverage in. Not having to worry about cleaning the cups. Decreasing waste on campus. These are not just sentence fragments but are pieces of a larger puzzle that is one solution to an astronomical garbage problem. Introducing the Flip-a-Cup Project.

Wait. Let me back up and explain more of the story of this idea and how it got off the ground.

Back in June of this year Melissa Lacey, a student here at Nipissing University in the Environmental Biology and Technology program, approached me with an idea: get some cash together to purchase reusable mugs that folks can use to drink coffee out of without having to use paper cups and plastic lids that are normally provided by Tim Horton’s. Folks could use the cups during the day and drop them off in return bins that would be strategically placed throughout the school. These cups could then be picked up, washed, and used by the next consumer. This brilliant idea for a cup sharing program was identified and I was flabbergasted; the Flip-A-Cup Project was born.

So, after putting together a proposal and circulating it through various departments at Nipissing, sufficient funding was secured to purchase 400 reusable travel mugs, 4 return bins, and some signage to promote the Project. The launch for the project occurred this past Tuesday.

In an ever increasing environmentally conscious world, it is more important than ever to not only make conscious choices about our actions but to also change our behaviour. With customer convenience in mind, the Flip-A-Cup Project could not be an inconvenience for the consumer and still be successful. This is where the helpfulness of Aramark (the main cafeteria food provider on campus) in committing to wash the reusable cups and lids assists with the Project. They are willing to collect the cups, clean and sanitize them in their dishwashers, and set them out for next use beside the main Tim Horton’s location at the main cafeteria. Now coffee and other hot beverage drinkers don’t have to worry about washing their own cups, taking them home, or dragging them all over campus. Even though these seem to be small inconveniences, making the Project as efficient as possible was a main goal.

If I have not convinced you to take part in the program yet, hopefully I can by generally discussing the waste generated by disposable cups. In a waste audit that was conducted by the Environmental Action Committee (a student led environmental issues club) last year, they discovered that approximately 20,000 paper cups are thrown into the garbage each week at the North Bay campus. This amount translates to 33,000 lbs of unnecessary paper waste and 5,500 lbs of plastic waste (lids that can be recycled) generated each year from coffee cups alone. That is 142 cups per year per capita! So, if reusable plastic cups can be used over and over again it would result in less waste and a cleaner environmental conscience.

But, we need your help. Students, faculty, and staff must commit to the concept of the Project in order for it to work. This includes keeping the cups on campus, returning them to the bins when you are done, and most importantly not taking them home to keep. The Project is propped up by both university and student money and it would be a shame to have cups go missing that would lead to the eventual termination of the Project. But, I do have faith in my fellow students and colleagues and would hope that they participate in the program the way it is intended.

So grab a coffee or hot chocolate, tea or apple cider in a Flip-A-Cup. The cups are 16 oz in size (the equivalent of a large paper Tim Horton’s cup) so the taste will be the same (cream and sugar are usually proportioned to the size of cup). The travel mug insulates your beverage and keeps it hotter for longer. You’ll also save money at the point of sale since you need to pay for only a medium even though you’ll receive a large beverage in quantity. Most of all, you can rest assured that by taking part you are saving at least one paper cup and plastic lid from being carelessly thrown in the garbage.

The Flip-A-Cup Project is targeted at consumers who do not normally use a travel mug due to its typical inconvenience. As a consumer, I feel that this innovative idea is not only creative but practical. And hey, if the concept catches on, we can issue even more reusable cups in the future. So grab a Flip-A-Cup and take part in the latest trend to descend upon our campus. Our Earth will thank you for it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Whoops, You Just Lit The School On Fire

On Monday afternoon at approximately 1:20pm, students at Nipissing University and Canadore College were given an extensive 40 minute break from their classes and other activities that they were doing. Someone pulled the fire alarm. I should know. I was at Nipissing University at the time.

Well, that is not entirely true. I'm not sure if someone pulled the alarm (by accident or not) or if the loud sounding buzzer was set off by something else. But, I was in a class at the time. Having not experienced a fire alarm situation since high school, I was able to both participate and observe the situation at hand. Here is a brief breakdown of how it went:

Fire alarm sounds. Not unlike a shrieking banshee, the alarm was beyond loud.

Students in my class begin to look at each other. First with the look on their faces of "is that the effing fire alarm?" followed quickly by "yup, that's the fire alarm so we better stand up."

It is this point of the situation that baffled me the most. Instead of quickly walking out into the hallway and to the nearest exit after hearing the alarm, what did my fellow colleagues do? Pick up their stuff, of course! This includes packing away laptops, putting on coats, shutting books and binders, etc.

Students finally proceed into the hallway with what seems like their last worldly possessions in tow aside from the family cat.

Once outside, I recall seeing a sheet of paper posted beside the doorway in the classroom that outlined Emergency Evacuation procedures. My wish is that occupants of the building had read these procedures BEFORE HAND rather than reading them during the actual drill (which I nearly did). The thing about the notice by the door was that it was multiple words in length, perhaps more than 100. It outlined in detail what to do regarding various types of alarms. If I had my way, the sign would read:IF YOU HEAR THE ALARM, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE BUILDING."

1:30pm (approximately)
I saw only 2 firetrucks arrive on scene. However, I was at the side of the building beside the townhouses so I didn't get the greatest view of the big shiny red trucks due to that eye-sore of the brown portable that was blocking my line of sight.

This fire alarm experience has raised a couple of questions for me that perhaps deserve answers:

1) Why are there different levels of alarm? To me, an alarm is an alarm. If you hear it, get out.

2) How come students (and professors!) gathered up their belongings prior to evacuating? You would think that in a potential life-or-death situation that personal belongings would be found at the bottom of the priority totem-pole.

3) What about students who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing? There are a couple of flashy lights (in the hallways), but what about elsewhere? What if they don't hear the alarm if they are in the library? A washroom? A residence room?

4) How should students who use wheelchairs be handled in this situation? Elevators are not to be used during emergencies, but what if they are on the 3rd floor of H-wing? How are they to evacuate while still maintaining their sense of dignity? Why are some evacuation signs in classrooms not at eye-level for someone in a wheelchair?

I'm not sure if anyone else has had a similar experience or thoughts, but I'd like to know.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who is that middle aged person talking to me and why am I listening…?

Professors. Teacher assistants. Post-graduate students. Doctors of Philosphy. Academics. Writers. These are the individuals who stand in front of many students beginning every September to lecture them about what they (may) need to know. So who exactly is that middle aged person talking to you as you scribble down notes during your three hour lecture sessions? As it turns out, they are not just teachers; they are researchers and writers.

When moving from high school to university, this change was one of the most notable ones that I didn’t notice immediately. Although there is some demand for respect, not all professors require you to call them Dr. _______ (actually, not all of them have a PhD). But, calling this middle aged person by using the designation doctor or professor is not a bad start.

University professors are not teachers

Not to be mistaken, university professors are not LIKE elementary or secondary school teachers. The latter folks make their money and promote the growth of their careers by teaching young adults, preparing lesson plans, and sometimes taking additional courses. University professors do these things AND conduct research. I suppose that an accurate description is that university professors lecture classes of students in order to make money but the reason that they are there is to conduct research. But really, they’re not making copious amounts of cash when their royalty cheque comes in when their most recent publication sells out of the 1,000 copies initially released for publication. While other teachers promote the growth of their careers by teaching, university professors do so by seeking to “publish or perish”; the idea that you must continue to research and publish your findings lest you lose your authority – and potential for tenure – for not continuing to do so.

So what sort of research do university professors do?

Well, to say that their research is ground breaking is an understatement. Really, I would expect that all research would be ground breaking during its time; if it wasn’t, then either the researcher didn’t do a thorough job or the research topic has been beaten to a bloodier pulp than a beaten dead horse.

Research that is conducted by professors is quite diverse. Nipissing University’s Dr. Nathan Kozuskanich (say that 10 times fast without mistakes!), originally from the Barrie area, studies American history and specializes in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Many of us will recall it as the right to bear arms. He is particularly interested in what the Founding Fathers of the 18th Century meant by a person’s right to bear arms; obviously, this issue has present day application regarding gun laws in the wake of many gun related crimes. Dr. K tells all here.

Dr. Dana Murphy has research interests regarding the elderly adults and is the overseer of the Northern Centre for Research on Aging and Communication that is located in the halls of Nipissing University. Students can also volunteer their time to be research subjects and receive a small honourarium for their time and effort. And no, this does not involve putting shampoo in your eyes and measuring the amount of tears that result. Learn more here.

Dr. Jim McAuliffe, current chair and professor of Nipissing’s new Bachelor of Physical Health and Education (BPHE) degree has studied athletes. Particularly, his recent study attempts to measure reaction time out of the starting blocks for runners. He can be read about in the Washington Post here.

So how does someone go from being a high school student to university professor? Well, mainly two things: lots of education and lots of money. Consider this equation: Education = Money. I think that my point is clear.

But really, after obtaining a 4 year undergraduate degree, students then pursue education at the graduate level in a 1 or 2 year program with the idea of developing and performing some original research that could be published as an article in a peer reviewed journal. After that, a PhD (which stands for Doctor of Philosophy – I didn’t know this until 2nd year university) can take upwards of 3 years to complete, and that is fast-tracking. Many professors take these latter degrees as part time study. Why? Well, they’re already up to their ears in debt and must work at an actual job before having the highest academic designation bestowed upon themselves. Do you think that you are so sick of your 3rd year university research essay that you want to punch it through the Milky Way? Well, try working on the same paper for multiple years! Welcome to the life of a university professor.

So after all of this education, you are actually a doctor! Well, not a medical doctor at this point and, you may have to watch yourself. As Dr. David Tabachnick, professor of Political Science at Nipissing University, once said, “If I’m on an airplane and someone yells that they need a doctor, I usually just keep my hand down so that I stay out of trouble.”