By Nicole Capozziello
Published June 25, 2020
Before the coronavirus, Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) met on campus every month, a group of students from across disciplines coming together around their passions for problem-solving and the environment.
The room was usually abuzz with activity as 30 or so students chatted and caught up before moving on to the formal meeting. They shared news regarding sustainability initiatives around campus and NY state, opportunities to come together to volunteer and socialize, and, of course, updates on the group’s six unique projects.
“There’s a lot that I think makes ESW unique,” says Luke Miller, a mechanical engineering major and ESW’s Advertising/Outreach Coordinator. “One of the big things is that we’re a project-based club.”
Kenny Creaser, leader of the Urban Farming project, might invite classmates to use their expertise to revitalize Buffalo’s Groundwork Market Garden warehouse.
Austin Reese of the Biofuels team might offer an update on testing their design prototype, the ensuing phase after semesters of research and implementation in protein engineering.
Or, Clayton Markham might recruit members for a new project centered on the Solar District Cup, a national event by the Department of Energy held for the first time this year.
The group had especially exciting news to share last semester: the University at Buffalo chapter was chosen to host the ESW Biennial Conference in 2021.
The conference, scheduled for March 17-21 of 2021, will bring students from across the country to UB’s North Campus for a weekend of learning and connecting.
"We are thrilled to host the 2021 national conference," says James Jensen, professor of environmental engineering and the club's advisor. "UB and Buffalo will be the focus as engineering students from across the country gather to share ideas on sustainability and how to make the world a better place. We hosted the conference in 2009 and are delighted to show off how far UB has come since then as a sustainable place to learn and work."
Planning for the conference has been underway since the fall of 2019, with coordinators Sarah Wagner and Valerie Bevan dedicated to making the conference theme–Energize, Restore, Implement–come to life.
Bevan, an incoming senior in environmental engineering, says, “I am particularly excited about showing off what UB’s chapter of ESW has accomplished in the past couple of years, including solar-powered charging stations and a biofuels project.”
For ESW members, the national conference will not only be an opportunity to highlight their endeavors, but show others the accomplishments of the entire Western New York region.
“Some of our conference planning volunteers are currently working on a comprehensive map of past ESW projects and their impact on the Buffalo community. This map will also show off some UB staples, like the GRoW Home and solar strand,” says Wagner, an environmental engineering major.
“With both speakers and tours of places like the Niagara Falls Power Vista and a waste-to-energy site, we also look forward to showing off the renewable energy sector in WNY and the historic brownfield [potentially contaminated] sites. We’re planning to incorporate partners UB Sustainability and the WNY Sustainable Business Roundtable to emphasize the great work that is being done locally.”
The conference planning team is working hard to incorporate the value of sustainability into every aspect of the event, including working with caterers and others from across campus to minimize waste.
“I’m looking forward to seeing other students and professionals from across the nation experiencing the content we’ve been spending so much time putting together, including a sustainability-themed design challenge, as well as local and non-local speaker sessions and social events,” says Bevan.
"With most engineering clubs, there’s a professional side and there’s a technical side,” says Miller. “And I think something that ESW does really well is to also include a social aspect.”
One of the UB ESW group’s main social events is their annual winter camping trip, which had 39 students venturing outdoors for a weekend trip to Alleghany State Park this past January.
“I have met my favorite people through this organization, and the eBoard often hears in our end-of-year survey that many people are meeting their closest friends through our programs and projects,” says Wagner. “We offer such a unique niche of programs–encouraging students from all disciplines to be active in the sustainability community and offering hands-on project experience from day one in the club. We draw in a unique group of students that all have something in common, it leaves us with so much potential to both create amazing things and foster new friendships.”
This focus on community is at the heart of both the planning and execution of the 2021 conference.
“Since the beginning of joining the conference planning team, I have been constantly amazed by the unwavering support and willingness to contribute by club members and UB faculty alike,” says Bevan.
In light of the pandemic, planning has moved online, but is still fully underway with guidance and support from ESW national. ESW at UB is planning for all circumstances for the next school year, approaching future plans with their trademark blend of agility and optimism.
“Working entirely remotely on this project has allowed us to focus on content development and has put a huge emphasis on developing ways to foster community during the conference,” says Wagner. “Whether it is through our social events, networking events, or design challenge, we hope that everyone involved will feel like part of a big, sustainable family.”
ESW is an international organization with over 1,700 members across 50 chapters around the world. Conferences are an important part of living the organization’s mission of designing (giving students access to create solutions to real engineering problems), educating (broadening the intellectual horizons of themselves and others), and uniting (bringing together like-minded individuals to create change).