Environmental engineering student successfully holds ESW national conference for over 200 attendees

By Peter Murphy

Published May 26, 2021

“We wanted to represent local and regional sustainability professionals and projects, as well as global perspectives during the national ESW conference” says Sarah Wagner, environmental engineering senior and conference coordinator for UB’s Engineers for a Sustainable World student club (UB ESW).

The first biennial conference

“Working with ESW has provided me a vast network and soft and hard skills I will have with me for the rest of my career ”
Sarah Wagner, Environmental Engineering senior, conference coordinator

Wagner worked with the UB ESW team to organize the conference on behalf the national ESW organization (ESW-HQ), a non-profit network made up of over 50 collegiate chapters. Almost 300 people attended the conference from April 22 – 24. According to Wagner, the planning process for the ESW National conference started two years ago.

In 2019, UB ESW had a successful year. The club’s president was recognized by the national ESW as an outstanding member, and the club itself earned the outstanding chapter distinction. UB ESW leadership wanted to learn more about hosting the biannual conference, and the ESW-HQ team was eager to have UB-ESW commit to the hosting in 2021, according to Wagner. However, in 2019, nobody – UB-ESW or ESW-HQ – could have predicted the 2021 conference would have to be 100% virtual.

“UB was selected to host the first ESW National Conference in a new biennial format. Sarah lead the design with creativity and resolve. When it became apparent the conference would be remote, Sarah and her team had to completely redesign the conference,” says environmental engineering professor and ESW faculty advisory Jim Jensen, “In spite of the challenges, the UB team delivered a well-received, forward-thinking experience for over 200 registrants.”

According to Wagner, she and the rest of the planned to hold the event in person, even after the University went 100% online in March 2020.  “By August and September, we had developed models for hybrid in-person/virtual events as it became clear that bringing hundreds of outside students to campus was not feasible. By the end of September, our plan was to go fully virtual,” Wagner says.

Thanks to Wagner and the rest of the conference committee team, the planning process had little impact on the club’s normal activities. UB ESW continued to hold social and professional events nearly every week while continuing to work on regular projects.

 “The conference committee acted as another project team, providing us the opportunity to reach out to our members and work with the eBoard on important matters,” Wagner says. UB ESW had two additional project teams in the club this year: Biofuels and the Solar District Cup team.

“Biofuels is currently researcher and developing a bio-digester that uses special bacteria to breakdown organic waste and produce methane gas and compost that could be captured for fuel and other uses,” Wagner says, “The Solar District Cup team enter the U.S. Department of Energy’s competition to design a solar energy system to be implemented on a campus or similar district. They recently presented their project in the competition’s virtual final.”

Wagner plans to begin her career as an environmental engineer before starting graduate school in the future. Planning and successfully executing the ESW national conference has provided her with valuable expertise she will be able to utilize moving forward.

“This experience provided me with the opportunity to lead a team and network with ESW-HQ and professionals. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on a project that allowed more than 200 people the ability to interact with like-minded individuals and learn from professionals in sustainability,” Wagner says, “Working with ESW has provided me a vast network and soft and hard skills I will have with me for the rest of my career.