PADNWS-05-06-21 SUSTAINABILITY AWARD - PHOTO

In this February 2020 photo, West Kentucky Community and Technical College students Patrick Stephens, left, Robert Russell, second from left, and Atherton Milford, at right, along with Hannah Nickel, AmeriCorps member, hike and plan signage for the campus Nature Trail.

West Kentucky Community and Technical College is one of 40 schools in the country recently to be nationally recognized for a commitment to sustainability by the U.S. Department of Education.

WKCTC is a 2021 recipient of the department’s Postsecondary Sustainability Award, one of only two institutions in Kentucky and the only community and technical college to receive recognition. Other educational institutions were also recognized as the department’s Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Award winners.

Across the country, 27 schools, including three early learning centers, five districts and five postsecondary institutions, including WKCTC, were honored recently for their innovative efforts to “reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education.”

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 20 states. WKCTC was nominated by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council. The Academies of Bryan Station High School, in Lexington, was also recognized.

“These awardees use sustainability and context to teach important civic values and skills that engage students to grow into responsible, compassionate and contributing global citizens,” said U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, in announcing 2021 recipients.

“This is even more important as we work to recover from a global health pandemic, for all schools have been forced to confront issues of school air quality, nutrition and outdoor learning more directly than ever.

“A sustainable, or green school, is simply a healthy, efficient learning environment where students can use their school building and grounds, whether older or new, as learning tools connected to the technology and jobs of the future,” Cardona said.

WKCTC’s adopting a value statement of “economic, social and environmental sustainability” demonstrates the college’s commitment to the effort, said Bobby Ann Lee, a recently-retired biology teacher who served as WKCTC’s sustainability project coordinator.

“This past year through the pandemic was a strain, but as I think of students leading the revitalization of our campus Nature Trail, faculty integrating environmental awareness into their courses, maintenance staff increasing their safety, recycling and energy savings duties, and administrative leaders providing the framework and encouragement for these initiatives, I am proud of the people at WKCTC,” Lee said.

Shay Nolan, WKCTC vice president of campus operations, said the award “only goes to prove the dedication of our faculty, staff and students to our sustainability programs.”

The college’s commitment to sustainability has long been established, Lee said.

“Back in 2009, faculty and staff wanted to start a recycling program and we asked then-president Barbara Veazey if we could start a green committee and just run recycling and environmental awareness and energy efficiency as a cost savings,” she said.

“We started that committee in 2009 and it still exists today, but now it’s called the sustainability committee.”

In 2013, WKCTC developed its first sustainability plan, which was updated in 2019 to cover the years 2020-2025. In 2017, Lee was given release time by the current administration to fill the newly-created sustainability project coordinator position, and the college’s 20-member sustainability committee added student, external community and administrative leadership members.

Over the years the college has made strides in reducing its environmental impact and energy costs, enhancing green space on campus and reducing its transportation footprint by installing bicycle racks, preferred parking for fuel-efficient vehicles and buying a hybrid car for the small college fleet.

“We’ve had a sustainability student student club and different clubs on campus. Actually, recently they initiated some of the greening of the campus with a Nature Trail. That actually was kind of student-pushed forward,” Lee said.

While this year’s Earth Day observance was virtual, in previous years WKCTC has celebrated Earth Day in a number of different ways. In 2019, for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, about 120 high schools students visited the campus and several regional organizations and WKCTC faculty set up booths to educate the public about the environment.

Earlier this week, Lee attended a meeting with representatives of a number of organizations like the Paducah Garden Club, The Nature Conservancy, McCracken County Extension Office and the U.S. Forest Services, among others, to talk about “greening up Paducah.”

“It’s collaborative. We can’t do it all by ourselves, but we can do small stuff. We have plans to start developing a Tree Walk on campus and we’re talking about that hopefully throughout the city,” she said.

Lee said the national recognition can help “spread the word that there are good things being done in the community and we’re moving forward as far as trying to find a positive aspect of turning green.”

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