Written by Paul Slocum, (Former) Student Sustainability Researcher
We truly thank Paul for his time and service in this role. He helped us with a number of initiatives including: tracking our energy consumption and spending, Zero-Waste events and composting pilots, Earth Week event scheduling, supporting the College’s recent movement to “Ban the Bottle” this Fall and documenting the health of our natural areas on campus. We wish him the best of luck and he moves forward towards his Bachelor’s degree at Loyola! Below is are his reflections on his time as Oakton’s first Student Sustainability Researcher.
After nearly one year and five months, I have finished my tenure as a Student Sustainability Researcher at Oakton Community College. I was a student here for two full years, taking some of the most engaging, challenging, and eye-opening classes that I could have ever imagined. The academic success I’m currently enjoying, as I move on to Loyola University of Chicago, could only have been made possible by the multitude of dedicated, caring, thoughtful faculty and staff that call this place home. Yet, for some background, I began my college career quite a distance from this tranquil and serene environment known as the Des Plaines community at Oakton; a community I love now for every acre of its grand red and white oak trees, whom are older than civilizations, plants and animals which have existed here in biotic organizations since the beginning of time, a place where natural life, in its full flourishing, can be found anywhere.
Indeed, my Freshman year experience at Marquette University was very different. Living in what some might’ve called a concrete jungle, the city of Milwaukee held no promise for me. I was lost there. There was hardly even a tree under which one could read peacefully in the city of Milwaukee. The professors at that institution couldn’t tell, or perhaps might not have even cared, when I was struggling in that environment; my grades suffered as a result when I could find no recourse for the distressing and tumultuous lifestyle of living in an urban setting with lots of young people. The disillusionment I felt towards the public systems in place designed to help those in need was profound; as I routinely confronted the same various homeless folks on the street, always voicing to me some of their deeply-rooted sadness as I handed them what change I had on the walk to class every day, left me wondering what on Earth could be done to make things improve for them; but not for just those impoverished Milwaukeeans that I knew, indeed, I was disillusioned by the whole world from these moments. Further, when my fellow classmates would advise leaving these distraught, “dangerous” people, alone, and to watch them turn up their noses to the ragged and sick as they passed them on Wisconsin Ave., beguiled me to no end.
So when I made the decision to return home and start afresh after all of this confusion and guilt, I came, apprehensively, to a school I knew almost nothing about. Yet, almost immediately, I could tell things were different at Oakton. The professors were involved, engaging, and enlightening. They frequently showed their commitment to their students and even asked me how I was doing on assignments and if I needed any extra time to complete them; and then—through serendipity or luck or whatever you wish to call it—I was offered one of the most rewarding and fulfilling employment positions I’ve ever received: to be the Sustainability Researcher here at Oakton Community College.
This job has meant the world to me, it made me realize what an immensely important and growing field that sustainability is. The college and its professors helped me to appreciate the necessity of ecological conservation and environmental protection, and then it went a step further to put me in a position where I could actually try and make a difference; and I don’t think I’ll ever really have the words to express how much this position has meant to me. But I do have some ways to express my thoughts on the person who supervised, advised, and taught me so much during my time with this job. Debra Kutska is a brilliant, caring, inquisitive, thoughtful and respectful person; who has dedicated her livelihood to trying to make this college, and the world, a better place. She is action-oriented and takes the initiative to really get things done, and done properly, when it is both necessary and prudent to do so. She is the best boss I’ve ever had and I won’t be going many places in my life without having cause to thank her.
The duties related to my position as researcher largely fell under her discretion, and she tasked me with important projects where I honestly got to feel like I was helping make a difference with both the college and the greater Des Plaines ecological environment. I would have a hard time coming up with any complaints about my job-related affairs if I tried, and the only thing that really comes to mind is the efficacy with which projects become proposed and seen through to completion at Oakton—since a number of things Debra and I tried to get across have been stymied or stalled for sake of the ease to implement them in college operations. And at this venture I would remind those who are reading this reflection that the Earth’s natural environments are all currently under a great deal of distress from human activity. A climate collapse has been predicted by as early as 2050; and in this era of seemingly impending doom from our own constant production of filth, carbons, and carcinogens, it is thus all the more imperative that we ‘take up the sword’ as quickly, and often, as we can in our efforts to combat climate change, in order to make Oakton’s college campus more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
That being said, my time at Oakton could not have been a better experience. The people I’ve met here, and the things they’ve taught me, have done more for me than anything else I’ve been through in life to help bring my deep interests, passions, and career goals into focus. The professors here, and Debra especially, have acted in a manner akin to salvation towards restoring my sense of purpose and academic pursuits. They have bolstered my desire to stay with, and complete, higher education to a greater extent than I could have ever hoped. It is with great melancholy and bittersweet emotions that I leave this fine institution, yet I am constantly reminded of the wonderful experiences Oakton has given me; and it gives me great pride and hope that soon, with the wisdom and guidance of the magnanimous people belonging to this place, another young person like me will be finding the same enlightenment as he or she is employed by Oakton to be the next Sustainability Researcher, and to continue fighting the good fight for us all. I hope to return someday in the future, at a time when all the environmental issues we are currently confronted with have been mitigated by the ingenuity of people like Debra, and the other faculty and staff who work tirelessly to improve our ecological consciousness, and to share in the gratification and benefits with which that commitment can bring.
I will never forget what Oakton Community College has done for me.
(Paul educating students about our initiatives and handing out free Earth Week Snacks)