Being a catalyst for change: That’s an important issue for almost every college student. And the College of Charleston validates that by citing change as a fundamental aspect of the institution’s mission. CofC’s pledge to the world is to develop “ethically centered, intellectually versatile and globally fluent citizens who create innovative solutions to social, economic and environmental challenges.”
That is why the Cougar Changemaker program is so important. This program, now in its 12th year, is managed by students within the Center for Sustainable Development. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for all full-time students at the College to propose and enact substantive change on campus. The deadline for submitting an interest form for the spring semester is Friday, Feb. 17, 2023. Forms can be obtained on the Center for Sustainable Development’s website.
For instance, if you’ve wandered through Stern Center Gardens recently, or around Rivers Green, you may have seen the new hammocks hanging in those spaces. These are the result of a recent student proposal, paid for by the Cougar Changemaker program.
Or perhaps you’ve seen the rain-collection barrels at 26 and 45 Coming St.? Those, too, came about via student initiative and were purchased and installed as a Cougar Changemaker initiative.
Nate Thompson is a senior biology major who serves as the implementation lead for this novel program. He says he’s grateful that Cougar Changemaker exists because it offers a unique opportunity for students to really have an impact.
“Enacting change within your own community – this campus – can be really empowering,” he says. “I like to tell students that the money that funds Cougar Changemaker actually comes from every student on campus, through the ecollective fee. So, if you want to have a voice in what your money is used for, consider proposing an idea for a change that you want to see. It’s something you’re already paying for, so why not get involved?”
A rain barrel at 26 Coming St. is the result of a student idea through the Cougar Changemaker program.
Badriyeh Diab, a Fulbright graduate student in the Master’s of Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program who serves as chair of Cougar Changemaker, concurs.
“The process is very turnkey,” she explains. “It starts with students filling out a simple interest form to declare their idea. After that, someone from the committee serves as a case manager and works with the student to develop the idea into a proposal. Then, that gets submitted. At the end of each semester, our student committee evaluates the proposals and votes on which ones we’ll fund. We have a budget of up to $5,000 each semester, so there’s the potential to enact a fair bit of change. Since spring 2020, we’ve funded 15 separate projects.”
Both Thompson and Diab are keen to point out that students needn’t do anything more than make that submission. The program is designed so that any proposals chosen for funding will be implemented by the Cougar Changemaker committee.
“We know that students have tight schedules,” Diab explains, “so they can’t always be involved in implementing the ideas. That’s what Nate does as our implementation lead. But, we do stay in touch with the students to let them know the status and the impact of their ideas. Ideally, this arrangement removes any pressure because implementation is something students don’t have to worry about.”
A recently approved proposal that is now being funded involves purchasing replacement equipment for the College’s grounds crew so that these employees can stop using gasoline-powered leaf blowers and switch to all-electric models.
The Cougar Free Store was launched through the Cougar Changemaker program.
“l served as the case manager for that project,” Thompson says, “and it is based on a really good idea from several students. The noise that gas-powered leaf blowers make is disturbing. I feel they take away some of the serenity of our campus, and they definitely disturb classes that meet outside. The students’ proposal pointed out that two-stroke, gas engines are less regulated than more efficient engines, so their use poses a health hazard – both for the employees using them and for anyone nearby. And thanks to Cougar Changemaker, we’ll soon have mostly electric leaf blowers on campus.”
Ultimately, what both Diab and Thompson want is for more students to be aware of Cougar Changemaker and the opportunities offered.
“We want more students to know about this program,” Diab says. “Our work is simply to open the space for them to think about something they can do to positively impact this community. After that, the resources are in place to bring about that change.”