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Michigan State University students with Professor Ryan Sweeder.

 

Massey hosts ‘green’ Michigan State students

It may not be easy being green, but students from Michigan State University believe it is the way forward for universities worldwide.

In New Zealand last week, 28 first-year students from the university took part in a two-week study abroad programme hosted by Massey’s Sustainability Group, chaired by Dr Allanah Ryan, a senior lecturer in the School of People, Environment and Planning.

During their time at Massey, the students visited its farms, had lectures on New Zealand agricultural practices, food culture and environmental record. They also visited the New Zealand Wildlife Centre and Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

The exchange stemmed from a longstanding relationship between Massey Professor in Agricultural Business Hamish Gow and Michigan Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment director Professor Laurie Thorp.

Professor Thorp’s award-winning programme allows students a specialisation in sustainability studies alongside their major. The course has been developed to provide quantifiable sustainability skills to prospective employers. It currently has 60 students enrolled in the first year. She has also developed the on-campus Student Organic Farm, which sells food to three campus dining halls and external buyers.

Michigan zoology student Jennifer Wilson said she was interested in the sustainability studies course because it gave her an advantage over single major students. “It will help me get a head start," she said. "Having an understanding of agricultural sustainability and how that connects with my major opens up more opportunities and employers are looking for wider expertise."

Associate Professor Ryan Sweeder said the popularity of the course was demonstrated by the fact that the group had students from 18 different majors. “Sustainability has provided a framework by which you can be very inventive and it’s created a niche students can move into in business; so if you can find ways to be sustainable and to reach consumers that’s very powerful.”

Professor Gow said he hoped the study abroad programme would be the start of an ongoing relationship between Massey and Michigan, leading to internships and full semester visits to New Zealand. He is also keen to explore the idea of Massey creating student-run businesses like the organic farm.

“Their students are growing food for the campus and local community, they are totally integrated and have closed the loop by having students working with their chefs and selling produce," Professor Gow said. "This is the living laboratory idea in practice. Their business produces a net profit of over $250,000 per annum."

Dr Ryan, Dr Brennon Wood, Dr Matt Henry (People, Environment and Planning), Professor Gow, Amanda Yates (CoCA) and Professor Shane Cronin (Institute of Natural Resources) this year received Special Innovation Funding for their ‘challenging sustainability' project; a stakeholder engagement project examining rural, urban and peri-urban sustainable agricultural land use.

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