February 20, 2019 | Hannah Ebeling

Two students in a kitchen package up unused food to distribute to a local food bank.
The Food Recovery Network is one of the many student-initiated programs that promotes sustainability on campus.

“People’s lives are affected by how we treat our environment. We can love people by loving our earth,” said Rylan Shewmaker, sustainability intern and environmental studies major. “For me, creation care is an act of worship although we might not always see it like that.”

Since 2008, students have promoted, led, and participated in Kill-a-watt, a residence hall-wide sustainability competition and education program during the month of January.  Throughout the month, students engage in a number of lifestyle challenges, activities, and events all geared towards engaging discussion and action around sustainability. 

Student-initiated efforts

As the sustainability intern, Shewmaker partners with the sustainability coordinators in the dorms to promote activities and events that engage students in thinking about their impact on the world. She explained that the issue of stewardship is one that resonates with many students. “We think a lot about our call to be stewards of the earth,” said Shewmaker. “It has been interesting to think about how creation care fits into Calvin’s mission of acting justly.”

“Being able to steward creation is a value of the college, one that we are trying to introduce to students,” said Becki Simpson, associate dean of residence life. “But, a lot of times it's students coming in with the ideas and bringing them to faculty."

Simpson said that Kill-a-watt has been student initiated all along. “It was actually some students that started kilowatt in the academic year of 2007 to 2008,” she said. “That year students in BHT (a residence hall) were excited about sustainability so they began promoting a sustainability competition within their dorm. The following year, the same students wanted to do something on a larger scale.”

This venture eventually became the campus-wide initiative it is today.  

Sustainability beyond January

“The sustainability coordinators work to promote sustainability in their dorms throughout the year,” said Simpson. “I think January provides some higher visibility for the kind of things they are hopeful to promote every month.”

“As students, we need to be thinking about what sustainability efforts look like outside of January too,” said Shewmaker. “It is really great to have this designated time for sustainability, but our efforts are more effective when we can think about them throughout the year, as part of a larger conversation.”

Calvin is working with students to provide even more programming around sustainability well past January, including partnering with programs like Food Recovery Network, bringing in speakers and hosting events such as the Mad Farmer’s Food Fest.

Agents for change

“Calvin has been really good to me—I have loved being here and have found a welcoming community that pushes itself to act upon the love of Christ we receive by being agents of renewal in the world,” said Shewmaker. “I am coming from a place of really loving this institution that has taught us well to demonstrate our care for the world. This is really what drives my passion for this work.”

Simpson believes that the mission of Kill-a-watt fits hand-in-hand with that of Calvin College. “I think that one of the first jobs God gave us was to tend the garden,” she said. “To be agents of renewal involves renewing the earth as well. And, to be part of restoring creation, is to be part of restoring all things.”

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