To learn more about UTC’s Innovations in Honors program visit www.utc.edu/honors-college. The application deadline for the program is Feb. 15, current students and students planning to transfer to the university are eligible to apply.
This semester two other groups of students in the Innovations in Honors program are working on projects. One group is focusing on alternative and active forms of transportation, and another group is working to design and implement a biological field station.
The decades-old story about Chattanooga being labeled "the dirtiest city in the South" was shared with a group of UTC students earlier this fall.
They heard about the hard work that allowed the city to shed its reputation, and they were challenged to continue the cause.
"We didn't know what we were getting into," said Robert Kropp, a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and one of the 16 students there that day. "But now we see all the potential for more positive change in this city."
Already, the difference the students have made has been noticed.
Over the course of this semester, Kropp and his classmates' work has helped the university earn a coveted green|light certification. This certification is granted through green|spaces, a local nonprofit, and requires participants to meet certain conditions to increase sustainability and environmental stewardship.
The students are part of UTC's new Innovations in Honors program — an expansion of the Honors College that has received national attention.
This summer, UTC's honors program was listed in a New York Times article among top honors programs in the country.
Innovations in Honors was launched this year with about 50 students. The two-year program offers hands-on learning opportunities — students are divided into groups and tasked with solving problems.
Students working on this project say gaining the green|light certification was just the start. Come January, they plan to use UTC's accomplishment as a catalyst to increase the environmental conscience of others across the city.
"Innovations in Honors students take ownership of their education," said Linda Frost, dean of the Honors College. "They are handed a project, and through working on it, are able to make a tangible impact on their community."
Frost was among school officials who sought the expansion of the Honors College to allow a more diverse group of high-achieving students to participate in it through a wider variety of programs.
Lisa Darger, sustainability coordinator for UTC, was the adviser to the students who earned the environmental certification. She said she watched the students not only solve a problem but also gain important life skills along the way.
Under her watch, students met with school administrators, researched and suggested changes to existing school policies and collaborated with the school and green|light.
Some of the requirements were ones UTC already had in place, such as offering bicycles for alternative transportation and working toward benchmarks for water and electricity usage. But in other areas, students had to work to change departmental purchasing policies and adopt a plan to use more environmentally friendly chemicals in cleaning.
"These students have begun what will be a legacy for UTC," Darger said.
Richard Brown, executive vice chancellor of finance and operations, said he's encouraged by the students' work. He said they built on the efforts of many departments that have, for many years, been working toward environmental sustainability.
Brown said the students' momentum has created a culture of environmental stewardship on campus, which he believes will remain long after these students graduate.
"We, as a university, should be leaders in this area," Brown said.
The students who worked on the project agree, hoping that businesses across the city will see what UTC has accomplished and make their own strides to improve the environment.
Natalie Hostetler, green|light program director, said she was honored to be able to partner with the students. She said their work is a testament to the effectiveness of this certification for a variety of organizations.
UTC is the first large institution to be green|light certified; the other participants in the program are primarily smaller businesses.
Abby Kinnard, a junior who worked on the project, hopes the lesson they've learned will help other larger businesses or organizations.
"Now that we've gained the certification, we can go to other businesses and show them what we've done," Kinnard said.
Kropp echoed her sentiment.
He said he's proud of what the group has accomplished so far, but is looking forward to expanding their work beyond the campus this spring.
"We're not done," Kropp said. "And we've got a lot of momentum."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.