In a rapidly evolving economy, how are Oregon universities adapting to meet the demands and limits of a changing world? The first ever Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (OHESC) last week at Portland State University brought together more than 350 school administrators, professors, students, and green industry professionals from across the state to explore just that.
The conference comes at a time when both students and administrators are reconsidering the role of higher education (see PSU’s ReThink campaign). And for these conference attendees, that role increasingly involves sustainability issues—from confronting climate change on college campuses to better preparing students for jobs in a green economy.
Keynote speaker David Kenney, president and executive director of Oregon BEST (Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center), addressed the crowd as someone who works between Oregon universities and industry to bring clean technology innovations to market.
“We’re trying to find new ways to provide the basics people need,” said Kenney. “Other countries are doing a better job at implementing clean tech solutions, but the U.S. still leads in innovation and invention.”
The research and entrepreneurship developed in U.S. colleges and universities play a big role in that, according to Kenney. “U.S. universities are unparalleled.”
PSU’s Erin Flynn, associate vice president of strategic partnerships, and economics professor Randy Bluffstone joined Fred Gordon from Energy Trust of Oregon and Phil Whelker from PECI on a panel to discuss job potential in the energy efficiency sector for Oregon college graduates.
Flynn acknowledged that while PSU is strong in environmental sustainability curriculum, coursework does not prepare students with the specific knowledge and skills needed to enter the green energy industry. “We are an urban serving university,” said Flynn. “It’s incumbent on the university to understand this marketplace and meet the demand.”
Students themselves were active participants in the conference, leading a number of workshop sessions and even creating their own student sustainability vision and action plan.
With a world population that has more than doubled in the last 50 years, the issue of balancing our communities, economies, and the environment is increasingly entering conversations of policy makers, educators, and industrialists.
“It’s not an option to not solve these problems,” said Kenney. “The question is, who’s going to?”