Environmental Intern Positions

Bill Leeman, Paul Harcombe, & Walter Isle

Environmental Programs Steering Committee


The Environmental Programs Steering Committee proposes to establish two one-year, full-time post-graduate internship positions to carry out a pilot study to promote campus sustainability, to research an undergraduate Environmental Internship program and other environmental initiatives, and to assist the Committee in environmental course development. Interns would report to the EPSC members and, as appropriate, Food & Housing or other administrative centers.

Interns would implement a pilot study of the composting plan produced by a student research group in the BAKE 302 class. They would also conduct specific cost/benefit and logistics research, assist faculty in implementation of selected environmental initiatives, and generally provide dedicated manpower to pursue creative ideas that otherwise might not be developed due to staff and resource limitations.


The establishment of Environmental Internships will primarily provide desirable continuity to the research and work started by Rice students and faculty, but for which there are insufficient time and resources to develop and implement formal projects. This proposal to hire full-time interns, ideally selected from graduated Rice Seniors who have been involved in environmental activities as undergraduates, offers a cost-effective means to provide continuity necessary to bring promising projects to completion.

Student research groups in the BAKE 302 and ENVI 490 classes defined a number of areas wherein progress could be made to enhance the environmental sustainablility of the Rice campus. They proposed a number of specific actions to attain this goal as described briefly in the BAKE 302 class final report (see http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~bake302/ARESreport.html). One of these projects concerns the development of a composting program to recycle organic and paper waste created through campus activities. This project was advanced to the stage that a pilot study is the next logical step before campus-wide implementation. Food and Housing staff have offered space and assistance in setting up the pilot study at Central Kitchen, but the logistics of equipment acquisition and actualization of a composting operation remain to be worked out. Similarly, other promising environmental tasks require further analysis and research before formal implementation plans can be proposed. Serious consideration of such student-originated studies would be of enormous benefit to undergraduates in motivating them to higher levels of scholarship and action. Creation of Environmental Internship positions would send a clear message to students, faculty, staff, and those beyond the hedges that Rice is seriously working to make our environment a better place.

Another important motivation for proposing establishment of Environmental Internships is to provide an important resource to Rice faculty who are developing environmental courses. Although Rice faculty may have experience and expertise with environmental topics, most have other active research and teaching duties in their primary disciplines, and thus have insufficient time or resources to follow up vigorously on campus environmental developments. In assisting faculty with course development and through involvement in course projects, Environmental Interns could provide a vital resource to stimulate undergraduate involvement in practical applications that would supplement the in-class educational experience. Interns could be involved in research into the structure and functions of environmental studies programs at other institutions, thereby catalyzing such endeavors at Rice and aiding efforts to develop funding strategies to create an ongoing Environmental Internship program here.

We also suggest that this proposal offers a low-cost means of testing the desirability of having a permanent staff position dedicated to environmental issues at Rice - someone with monitoring, communications, research, and implementation responsibilities to coordinate environmental studies activities across campus - as a possible successor to the Environmental Programs Steering Committee.


Below is presented a prioritized list of activities for the Environmental Interns, including names of faculty supervisors associated with each activity. The Environmental Interns would also be expected to attend Environmental Programs Steering Committee meetings as requested by the Chair, and to assist Priscilla Huston in providing staff support to that committee and to specific environmental courses sponsored by the committee. Actual assignment of responsibilities to interns will depend on the number and abilities of the interns; the list is meant primarily to outline a series of tasks that we envisage as being most beneficial to the university environmental studies initiatives in the near future.

ï Composting pilot study. An intern will work with personnel in Food and Housing and in Facilities and Engineering to research the feasibility of using composting devices on campus to process food waste. In the aforementioned feasibility study conducted by student researchers in BAKE 302, a product was identified that should significantly reduce the cost of garbage disposal and the volume of waste leaving the campus. This is a potentially ëhigh-profileí effort to draw attention to environmental initiatives and is a direct outgrowth of student research activities. Mark Ditman has volunteered to work with the intern in running the pilot study at Central Kitchen. (Faculty supervisors: Leeman & Harcombe). 20 hr/wk.

ï ëNaturalist's guideí to the campus. An intern will work with faculty and staff to develop a lay guide to the ecological character of the Rice campus and nearby environs. While such a booklet would naturally focus on the flora and fauna, it could well include a ësocietalí component concerning how the Rice community interacts with its natural environment as well as how that environment influences the community. Such a publication could be made widely available to visitors and members of the Rice community to raise awareness of the uniqueness of the Rice environment and our roles in it. (Faculty supervisors: Harcombe, Thornhill, and Isle). 15 hr/wk

ï Proposals to local sources to obtain funding for an expanded internship program. Interns will carry out background research and assist in developing the concept of a sustainable Environmental Internship program at Rice. We would like to see such a program become at least partially self-sustaining to validate the importance of environmental studies to the Houston community. (Faculty supervisors: Isle & Wiesner). 20 hr/wk

ï Assist faculty in developing course materials for UNIV 200/300 and in the sequel to BAKE 302. Interns will serve as aides in organizing resource materials, developing student involvement in local environmental initiatives, participating in field trips, etc. (Faculty supervisors: Isle, Few, Sass, Harcombe, Ostdiek). 10 hr/wk

ï Benchmarks for evaluating our progress in minimizing environmental impact and promoting sustainability. Interns will be involved in developing a set of criteria to be applied at Rice and in greater Houston. (Faculty supervisor: Wiesner). 15 hr/wk


Costs of the proposed program include salary for two full-time interns, paid at a rate equivalent to Rice Graduate Fellowships ($16,000 per year), associated fringe benefits (staff rate), and equipment (one Earthtub composting unit--$6000). It is anticipated that some minor implementation costs for the composting pilot project can be absorbed within the existing F&H budget.

There is need to find desk space for the Environmental Interns. Possibly some space will be available in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, depending on pending renovation plans.

Access to computer facilities, printing, reproductions, mailing, and telephone communications will also need to be arranged. Some of these items may be available through existing departmental resources, but a nominal amount of $600 is included in the budget below.

Personnel $32,000

Fringe benefits (@ .20) 6,400

Computer and communications expenses 600

Equipment 6,000

TOTAL $45,000

Final comment. It is our hope that the concept of initiating the proposed Environmental Internship program will be accepted on its merits despite the fact that some of the logistical details remain to established. What we are proposing is perhaps a ëbaby stepí toward creation of a viable environmental studies initiative at Rice University. We envisage, ultimately, a more formalized entity having a distinctive physical presence on campus - possibly with a dedicated staff and director. In the interim, we hope to make positive strides to bring a higher sense of awareness to the Rice community of the importance of appreciating and protecting the environment in which we live and work.