UT Senior Has Sustainable Energy to Spare

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Reagan Richmond is out to save the world. The graduating senior in environmental studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been a campus leader in environmental issues for the last five years.

Richmond had no intention of majoring in environmental studies when she first arrived at UT from Cleveland, Tenn. She originally planned to study pre-med and go in to prosthetics, helping amputee patients. But during her freshman orientation, Richmond received a flier for Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville (SPEAK), and something clicked.

Richmond (center) takes a stand on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

At her first meeting, Richmond heard Professor John Nolt speak about preserving the environment for future generations, and that struck a chord with her.

“He spoke about how places he enjoyed when he was young were no longer around and that we need to take care of the planet for those who come after us,” Richmond said. “That resonated with me because I’ve always been interested in helping others, and what better way to do that? Without a clean environment, we can’t have healthy people.”

Richmond was so motivated at that meeting, “I couldn’t leave without getting involved,” she said.

Since that meeting, Richmond has been a leader in SPEAK, Tennessee Alumni and Students for Sustainable Campuses (TASSC), Southern Energy Network and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

Richmond doesn’t see her involvement in environmental causes as an optional interest. She believes the world is in a critical moment, facing climate change and irreparable damage.

“Generations beyond us may not be able to enjoy what we have,” she said. “I don’t have a choice. This is what I have to do.”

Among the many accomplishments in her efforts to help make orange green, Richmond is particularly proud of her role in helping to establish TASSC during her freshman year. The organization works with student-led environmental groups across the state to promote sustainability at Tennessee colleges and universities. One of the products of TASSC is the Sustainable Campus Fee, or “green fee,” seen on many Tennessee campuses. Thanks to the hard work of Richmond and her cohorts, Tennessee is tied with California for the number of colleges and universities — eight — with green fees.

“Most people don’t think of the South and think of progressive work for sustainability,” Richmond said. “But there is a younger generation in the South that wants a future of clean energy.”

Richmond talks to UT football fans about wind energy at the Wind Turbine Tailgate.

Other notches in Richmond’s belt include staging a wind turbine tailgate at the 2008 Tennessee-Georgia football game, which consisted of setting up a couple dozen wooden windmills on the lawn of the Claxton Education Building and speaking to Vol fans about wind turbine energy; helping to allocate $400,000 over four years for an on-site solar photovoltaic grid, which would use solar light to generate electricity and feed it into the campus’ electricity grid; instituting a pilot plan for a revolving fund through UT’s green fee that aims to save the campus money; and, of course, helping to groom the next generation of green student leaders.

Richmond believes UT Knoxville is a leader in campus sustainability because of its student activists, and that isn’t going to go away just because she is graduating.

“We have a lot of interest from students who want to be involved in sustainability efforts, and who want to lead,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed being able to help build new leaders, and there are definitely some promising students on their way up.”

Richmond won’t miss out on any of the action though. She plans to stay in Knoxville and continue her work with SACE, working with students at campuses across the state providing guidance for clean energy initiatives. She’s currently working on a plan for promoting clean energy at the Bonnaroo music festival this summer, where she’ll represent SACE, raising awareness of environmental issues in the 2010 elections, and letting students know how they can get involved.

Continuing her work with SACE is a perfect fit for Richmond.

“I’ve really loved campus organizing and working with students. You’re only a student for so long, and you only get this experience once.”

She hopes to return to UT in 2011 to begin law school, perhaps preparing for a future in environmental law.

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