Missy Nergard, director of Sustainability, might be considered one of the lucky ones – at least she considers herself extremely lucky. “I absolutely love my job. I love Mondays because I know I get to go to work. I love coming to work every day.”
She also feels lucky because sustainability touches nearly every part of campus. “I get involved in everything. We have so many people doing amazing things on campus,” she said. “I work with eRecycling, almost all of the academic units, the Center for Renewable Energy and the campus tree committee,” to name a few.
One of Nergard’s favorite things is working with students. “Every student that comes to me is very passionate about something related to sustainability. I tailor the program to each of them,” she said, explaining that if a student is passionate about recycling, she can help them work on a plan with local property managers to help implement recycling for off-campus housing. “Recycling isn’t available at most local apartment complexes,” she said.
According to Nergard, many employers want to hire students who have knowledge of sustainability, and students want to work for companies that have good environmental practices. “When looking for a job, the millennial generation wants to know if the company gives back to the community, do they care about the planet and are they making the best use of our natural capital,” she said.
She is currently partnering with the Center for Renewable Energy on a Department of Energy grant that will lay the groundwork for a campus solar array. “There is no substantial renewable energy on campus,” said Nergard. “The grant money will pay for a student team to design a solar array system, and develop a funding pathway to cover the cost of the system through donations and gifts.”
The hope is to create a program that other universities can replicate. “Of course we are hoping it will lead to a solar array here, but our work is to develop a shovel-ready project and identify funding methods for public institutions with limited resources,” she added.
Nergard also serves as the campus liaison for the community-wide, food-scrap composting program at the Illinois State University Farm. Food scraps from community entities such as the campus dining halls, the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, State Farm Insurance Companies, COUNTRY Financial and others are taken to the farm for composting. “The scraps are mixed with yard and animal waste and piled in wind rows to decompose naturally,” she explained. “Within six to eight weeks the organic materials break down into a nutrient rich soil amendment.” The compost is then used on campus and is made available for members of the community to purchase.
Projects like the composting mesh well with Nergard’s community-wide sustainability activities. “We have a community forum that involves a lot of local not-for-profits, local government and business. One of the programs we help promote is Home Sweet Home Ministries,” she said. “At the end of the school year they will pick up items that students normally place in dumpsters – furniture, mini-refrigerators, clothes, etc. – there is a lot of stuff the students don’t want to take with them.” These items go to homeless shelters, thrift stores and not-for-profit agencies.
Another reason Nergard feels lucky – “I get to work with my rescue dog, Brennan, as a volunteer K9 Handler for the McLean County Emergency Management Agency,” she said. “While I volunteer for several organizations in the community, this is absolutely my favorite service component. I get to work with an amazing team, several of whom are ISU faculty and staff, to train a dog to find lost or missing people. We have been deployed to find missing children and Alzheimer’s patients, and in response to disasters.”
Working with Brennan is a family and work affair. “A large part of the training is the repetition of searching, in all types of conditions and environments, to find people. My kids are always eager to play hide-and-seek with the dog, but it’s actually something the students enjoy as well. Many of them miss their own pets, and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to work with Brennan and the other K9’s. It’s pet therapy at another level.” Nergard said. “I also feel lucky because my family is so supportive of the work we do. When I get a call to deploy, we have to be ready at a moment’s notice. Of course, it’s nice to get to the scene and run into colleagues like Dr. Joan Brehm or Eric Hodges, there’s a lot of comfort in working and volunteering with a competent team of experts.”
For more information on the sustainability efforts of Illinois State University, visit the Sustainability website.