Coming to the rescue

The Student Office of Sustainability does its part to save the planet

More stories from Taylor Hagmann


Photo by Submitted

Austin Northagen, far left and former director of SOS and Lauren Becker, third from the right and new director of SOS pose with other members of SOS at the Earth Claire celebration on April 23.

Every time a Blugold pays their tuition online, a small portion of it is allotted toward Student Segregated Fees, which is then reinvested into the student body.

Each semester, $10 per student is collected via the Student Segregated Fees fund and goes toward the Student Office of Sustainability’s green fund, former director of SOS, Austin Northagen, said.


Usually, the green fund has $184,000 annually to spend on sustainable improvements to campus and the student body. However, last year, the previous SOS director had set aside some funds for the bike share program. Although there was a delay in getting the bike share program passed, due to a change in the ordinance, the funds were no longer needed. Because of this, Northagen said, this year the SOS had a budget of $334,000 to allocate.

SOS has funded things like the plastic bag and Souls4souls drives in McIntyre Library, and the “Pick It Up, Pass It On” event, which will allow students to drop off large, unwanted items free of charge when they move this summer, Northagen said.

SOS also initiated the changing of all the lighting in Davies, the art department, and the Olson Addition in McPhee over to LEDs. They updated recycling containers in McPhee, as well as the recycling signage campus-wide.

They even rebranded the SOS, updating signage, handouts, documents and logos for a more “consistent visual presence,” Caleb Carr, a second-year illustration and design student, said in an email.

SOS, according to Northagen, was the driving force behind Earth Claire. Northagen organized last year’s first-ever Earth Claire, he said.

“That’s my baby,” Northagen said, calling it a “huge success.”

This year, they had more than 2,000 students attend the event on April 23.

SOS also played a part in the planning process behind the new welcome center coming to campus. The welcome center, which SOS was invited to collaborate on, will feature three electric car charging stations. The SOS also purchased 29 native trees, which freed up the budget for the university to put in a “genuine ecosystem,” Northagen said, which will help absorb greenhouse gasses and require less maintenance.

This year, SOS worked with other departments on campus to get three new bike racks approved. One will be between Vicki Lord Larson Hall and Schofield Hall. Two will have solar panels, so they can be lit at night — one next to the Karlgaard Towers and the other by Oak Ridge Hall.

Northagen said he is most proud of getting the bike share program approved. The SOS has been trying to get it approved for three years, Northagen said. Although they finally got the approval from the city they needed, they have been unable to find a company who has the resources to bring bikes to Eau Claire. Northagen is hopeful it will launch next year.

“I think (SOS) is going in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve elevated our credibility and legitimacy. I think administration is finally recognizing the importance of it, because they’ve seen the passion and the interest of students this year, and I think bike share and Earth Claire were the two biggest drivers.”

A new director

Northagen, a fourth-year English student graduating this month, served as director for the SOS for the 2018-2019 academic year.

“I didn’t realize my passion for sustainability until I had a platform for it,” Northagen said. “SOS provided that platform, and helped me become a far more well-rounded individual.”

SOS is under the umbrella of student senate, Northagen said. Each year, prospective directors apply, then interview with the Student Body President and Vice President. After the applicants go before Student Senate to make their pitch, the Senate votes. New directors are only approved if they have the majority vote.

Lauren Becker, who is a second-year comprehensive environmental geography student, was a student seeking the position of director for next year.

At first, Becker said she “hadn’t realized how involved we, as students, can be.” But Becker has now been on SOS for two years, the most recent of which she was a voting member herself. She also served on the 62nd session of Student Senate, which just ended last week.

Becker, who was also in charge of planning the Earth Claire event this year, was appointed Director on Tuesday.

Looking forward

“I’ve been very pleased with the success that we’ve had this past April, and I’m looking forward to continuing to grow,” Becker said. “I can only see it improving.”

Becker already has a plan for what the next session will look like for the SOS, she said. In addition to hopefully getting the bike share going, she also plans to make some changes and improvements within the SOS, specifically restructuring advertisements and duties regarding interns. She also will be part of the Governor’s Hall renovation, ensuring the sustainability of the building.

“I’m honored to have been approved by our Student Senate body for this position,” Becker said in an email after her appointment. “I’m eager to continue the great work that the commission has driven in past sessions and continue to improve upon our commission’s communication, efficiency and institutional relationship with the university and surrounding community.”

Northagen said he sees good things in the future for SOS as well.

“SOS is excited to continue its work into the 63rd Session of Student Senate, and work with new student leadership,” Northaged said in an email.

Students are allowed to attend meetings for the SOS and student senate if they’re interested.

“It’s important for the Student Office of Sustainability to have a professional and recognizable brand because we have a huge responsibility here on campus that the majority of students are not aware of,” Carr said via email. “The (SOS) plays an enormous role in campus-wide decisions and a lot of students don’t realize that by attending senate and commission meetings, they can have that sort of power.”

Hagmann can be reached at [email protected].