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UMM students raise awareness of energy use in Stevens County

UMM students Deon Haider and Melissa Kloek

"You can't have carbon neutrality unless people know about it." So says University of Minnesota, Morris student Deon Haider '14, Northfield, who has been working with Melissa Kloek '11, Stillwater, to increase awareness about Stevens FORWARD!'s Destiny Driver 8. Destiny Driver 8 states that "By 2015 Stevens County will be the first carbon neutral county in the world, demonstrating viable models for green housing, neighborhoods, and public buildings." Stevens FORWARD! is a local community development initiative working to make Stevens County the model community of rural Minnesota, and they have developed 14 "destiny drivers" to accomplish this goal.

This past year, Kloek primarily worked on quantifying the residential energy use of houses, vehicles used in travel, and the carbon footprint of food. Haider worked on the other side of things, looking at publicly available provider data based on the United States Census and Ottertail Power Company, as well as writing carbon related articles.

The main goal is to raise awareness about reducing energy use. Kloek took over a survey started last year by Mary Beth Kehrwald '10, a current staff member of Stevens FORWARD! She created both an electronic version they plan to email, as well as a print version they can mail to people who don't have access to electronic communications. She also planned community events to educate the public about sustainability efforts. The most recent event was a "Sustainability Fair" in April 2011 at East Side Park in Morris.

Haider wrote articles for Stevens FORWARD! as well as pieces for the University Register that have the potential to get picked up by other papers. She also set up a blog for Stevens FORWARD!. The blog contains information on how to increase your energy efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint, as well as general information about carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts.

Both Haider and Kloek have enjoyed working on this project, which is part of the Students In Service program. Kloek says that she wanted to be "a part of something that will be a model for communities and also to tap into Morris's great sustainability program" before she graduated this spring. Haider had experience working on similar projects and thought it fit well with her love of writing and her environmental studies major. She adds that it would "be awesome to be carbon neutral."

Stevens FORWARD! is an effort to create a brighter future for all residents of the county community: Alberta, Chokio, Donnelly, Hancock, and Morris. They believe the best days of our community are ahead of us, and the best way to get there is to get on the same page regarding what we want and how to best work together. Funded through a variety of public and private sources including the county, the five cities, the townships, the University of Minnesota, Morris, financial institutions, and other local businesses, this initiative represents a genuine spirit of partnership and collaboration. Stevens FORWARD!'s destiny statement reads: "Stevens County will be the model community in rural Minnesota, recognized for our progressive development and our innovations in renewable energy, agriculture, business, and education. We will achieve this by building upon the intellectual and social capital already present within the county and by attracting new and diverse talent that will drive our economy and increase our population."

Students In Service is an AmeriCorps program that encourages college students to enroll as part-time AmeriCorps members. Coordinated by Minnesota Campus Compact, an organization that promotes civic engagement on college campuses in Minnesota, the program allows interested college students to work in a variety of positions to help better their communities. Qualifying activities include academic and co-curricular service learning, internships with nonprofit organizations, certain kinds of practicum hours, federal- or state-funded community service work study, and most kinds of volunteer work. Students commit to 300 hours of service throughout the year.

The Center for Small Towns is a community outreach program housed at the University of Minnesota, Morris and serves as a point-of-entry to the resources of the University. Small towns, local units of government, K-12 schools, nonprofit organizations, and other University units are able to utilize the Center's resources as they work on rural issues or make contributions to rural society.