Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Mitchell Sustainability Symposium encourages campus sustainability, student engagement

Naina Srivastava
UT Provost Sharon Wood delivers a speech at the 2023 Mitchell Sustainability Symposium on Oct. 26, 2023. The Mitchell Sustainability Symposium is an annual event that promotes student engagement and campus sustainability.

Students and faculty gathered Oct. 26 for the 12th annual Mitchell Sustainability Symposium, an event focused on promoting student engagement and campus sustainability.

The event featured multiple administrative, faculty and student speakers including Sharon Wood, executive vice president and provost, director of sustainability Jim Walker, student organization representatives and faculty and sustainability-research leaders from various University departments. 

“In every college, every discipline, sustainability means something different to the kind of human activity they’re studying, the type of research they’re doing,” Walker said. “So it’s an inherently interdisciplinary kind of topic.”

Walker said having people from different backgrounds, both discipline-wise and culturally, is something the Department of Sustainability leans into. He said the department frequently collaborates with other University departments and campus organizations.

One of these partners is Planet Texas 2050, an initiative dedicated to developing programs, tools and policy recommendations that will improve Texas’ adaptability and build its resilience, according to its website. Heidi Schmalbach, Planet Texas 2050 director, was one of four speakers at the symposium panel about sustainability research. 

“We have everything from flooding and hurricanes and wildfires to now winter storms that keep us in a deep freeze for multiple days and threaten our power infrastructure,” Schmalbach said. “Of course, we can’t talk about resilience anywhere without talking about equity.”

Schmalbach said the key stressors from climate change compound “daily stressors that are born out of inequities,” putting communities that have been historically vulnerable the most at risk.

The symposium hosted two panels, one on sustainability research on campus and the other on sustainability and environmental justice in curriculum. Walker said this format was a shift from previous years’ “lightning-style” talks with more speakers but less time for each.

Xavier Rivera Marzán, executive director of utilities and energy management, spoke about the department’s partnerships and projects such as the University power plant.

“One of the things we would like to do is have this creativity to imagine and change our mindset,” Marzán said. “To imagine a utility environment where students can use our facilities to learn and get real-life answers to their questions from experiences.”

Marzán also emphasized collaboration within the University.

“We need to be a part of the mission of the University,” Marzán said. “Not only providing the utilities but also reinventing ourselves. Opening our doors and saying ‘We want to be partners with students. We want to be partners with faculty. We want to be partners with researchers. And we want to be partners with industry.’”

Wood, who delivered the symposium’s keynote speech, said the growing number of campus environmental organizations and interest indicates a student priority in sustainability.

“I’m very excited to see this focus on sustainability continue to grow at the University,” Wood said. “It is showing up in the curriculum for our students and in the research, and it’s really enabling UT to have a great impact on the city of Austin, the state of Texas and worldwide.”

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About the Contributor
Naina Srivastava, Senior News Reporter & Senior Photographer
Naina is a freshman journalism major from Mountain View, California. She is currently a senior news reporter and senior photographer at the Texan.