Harvey Mudd College launched the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design on Sept. 25, integrating environmental sustainability into its campus through a marriage of sustainable design and the college's focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The center is an expansion of HMC's Center for Environmental Studies (CES), which had previously focused on research and campus operations.
“We can accomplish so much more,” current CES head and physics professor Richard Haskell said of the Center's more extensive programming.
Tanja Srebotnjak, a statistician by training and environmental advocate by trade, was hired last year as the inaugural Hixon Professor of Sustainable Environmental Design. Alexis Reyes, the sustainability program manager, joins her as a full-time staff member of the new center. According to Srebotnjak, the goals of the Hixon Center still include research and campus operations, but also look into other topics such as the low visibility of the environmental analysis (EA) program at HMC and the integration of environmental sustainability into STEM classes.
“The goal was to create a central place at Harvey Mudd that intersects horizontally as well as vertically with the departments and administration,” Srebotnjak said.
She added that this intersection would also help HMC integrate sustainability more visibly into the way Harvey Mudd interacts with its neighbors in the surrounding community.
While the Hixon Center was officially launched this academic year, HMC students have already seen some effects of the center’s work.
For the first time, Professor Srebotnjak is teaching a class called Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainable Environmental Design this semester. The class combines special topics in engineering with environmental issues. The Hixon Center has already taken steps toward integrating environmental topics, as well as Environmental Statistics, into HMC's curriculum.
“It’s valuable to have something that is focused directly on the intersection of EA and STEM,” Dan McCabe HM ’17 said. As both an engineering major and environmental advocate, McCabe noted that “there are a lot of people who are interested in EA, but they tend to pursue it on their own, usually taking classes at the other colleges.”
While visibility of environmental analysis at HMC is a key issue for the Hixon Center, Srebotnjak also expressed the importance of learning STEM with the concept of environmental sustainability in mind. Srebotnjak referenced HMC's mission to educate engineers, scientists and mathematicians with a clear understanding of the impact of their work.
This idea resonated with McCabe, who said that “one of the best things this center can do is to get people exposure to these kind of ideas so that when they are out working in their fields they can think critically about the environment.”
Beyond the classroom, the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design has continued to fund research into environmental studies, as the CES did before. The Hixon Center for Environmental and Sustainable Design funded five students to conduct research over this past summer.
Professor Srebotnjak said that students will always find an open door at her office to discuss summer research options, although the Hixon Center does not yet have a physical location.