My work-study position combines pragmatism, idealism, fantastic resources and a touch of goofy charm to create real change in the Oberlin community. As an intern with the Community Service Work-Study Program at the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research, I get to help connect local organizations with talented students. Simultaneously, we aim to provide these students with an enriching co-curricular experience.
I came to Oberlin because I knew that my calling was to be a professional activist and saw this college as the best place to get a preparatory education for such a career. Within weeks I had a job working for eco-social transformation under a mentor who has a PhD in religion and social change. Needless to say, I was very excited.
However, the first few days on the job scared me nearly to death. I took the position without a job description and soon found that I had about 15 specific duties in a community that was extremely unfamiliar to me. I was supposed to schedule and lead workshops, update a website, compile data, plan forums, archive ideas, and build relationships with other college offices, while ‘greening’ the Bonner Center office in my spare time. I was excited, but extremely, extremely nervous. So I scrambled to do everything I was told as well as I could. I asked lots of questions, and I made sure to arrive at work well-rested (almost always). In return, I received guidance, answers, and confident reassurance from my co-workers.
I began creating a proposal for the Green EDGE Fund, with no idea of what I was doing. I was charged with calculating potential carbon savings and payback times and writing a grant proposal based on those figures. Taking the project one step at a time, I made slow but steady progress. I logged each light bulb in the house, writing down where it was, and how many watts were needed to power it. My co-workers offered friendly support as I popped in and out of their offices, asking to examine their lamps.
With a few more numbers, and a fair amount of time toying with Excel, I figured out how to make a spreadsheet that took these inputs and calculated carbon savings and payback time! This spreadsheet can be reused with new input data to calculate savings for any building, and we plan to use it in helping to foster similar changes at community partner organizations in the Oberlin community. And, when I calculated payback time and carbon savings for installing motion sensor light switches, I wrote a spreadsheet in a fraction of the time that the first spreadsheet had required. I have learned how to perform a basic energy audit, and have gained practice in justifying changes through writing a four-page grant proposal.
Our project is extremely exciting, working in a niche that has never been explored in Oberlin. As a bridge between the college and community, the Bonner CSL is an ideal sponsor of this project. I am learning more than I ever anticipated through the undertaking, and had the opportunity to articulate my vision when writing our funding proposal:
Social change will grow with environmental stewardship, and environmental stewardship will grow with social change. Conserving energy for a non-profit means a bigger budget because of lower energy costs. This means that the agency can then better serve the community. And, in order to best serve the community, one must acknowledge the importance of conserving the precious biosphere that all humans share.
Working for eco-social transformation in Oberlin is endowing me with a far deeper understanding of many things, including how to write a grant proposal, build a project vision, and seek to change the world. I truly look forward to going to work, because I feel empowered and excited about what I do at the Bonner CSL.