Center for Spirituality and Sustainability honors Retzlaff’s sustainability efforts

Bill Retzlaff, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, received the Sustainability Leadership Award from the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability last week, but said he “was not trying to achieve that goal.”

“I think the people that really earned the award are my students, my faculty colleagues and my business collaborators,” Retzlaff said. “… I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with a really great team.”

Civil engineering professor Susan Morgan and Retzlaff met with a green roof practitioner in 2004, which initiated Retzlaff’s green roof work.

“[The practitioner] was looking for someone to help him evaluate his new technology and from there we started with one small green roof and now we have five…,” Retzlaff said.

The small green roof is on the Engineering Building, with the following locations also containing green roofs: Student Success Center (16,000 square feet), the patio outside the chancellor’s office in Rendlemen Hall, Science Building West and the Engineering Building addition.

Retzlaff has also begun work with a vegetable rooftop garden – a component of green roofs – to be placed on the Morris University Center patio near Fixin’s Restaurant.

“If we’re going to do rooftop gardening with the idea that it’ll be an experiment, we’re evaluating different waste products to produce the vegetables, but we’ve investigated thermal benefits and stormwater benefits and increasing biodiversity with green roofs,” Retzlaff said, “and now we’re going to grow food and we’re really excited about it.”

Sophomore biological sciences major Sierra Halverson will work with Retzlaff on the vegetable rooftop garden project as an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) assistant. Halverson said Retzlaff and she began working on the project last semester and hope to begin planting by mid-April.

“[Working on this project] has enhanced my studies at SIUE in that I have involved myself in more
activities and I have learned so much from Dr. Retzlaff,” Halverson said. “I feel more knowledgeable and experienced with different aspects of science. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor. He is very well deserving of this award and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work under him.”

This sustainability work, according to Retzlaff, has extended well beyond the SIUE campus, in part, due to research his previous URCA associate Brittany Buckles, now an alumna, conducted.

“We collected insect samples from 55 sites, green roof sites, across North America and her research partner is a PhD student at York University, Scott McGyver, who was doing the same thing in Canada,” Retzlaff said. “So I would say we have an international reach…”

Retzlaff began his sustainability efforts because he said it was “a really unique opportunity in two areas.” He realized green roofs are “cutting-edge technology,” allowing him to give students experience “with something that’s going to be new and unique in their lifetimes.” The university’s research partners, according to Retzlaff, also “embraced working with our students.”

“In the classroom… you read a textbook and the information in there is five, eight, 10 years old. Not that it’s bad, but it’s only a building block,” Reztlaff said. “So I can have an environmental textbook, but it probably doesn’t mention green roofs. But then if I bring in green roofs or green walls or stormwater management with rain gardens, all the things that we work on—  solar power — now my students are gathering experience.”

Retzlaff said he likes to include students in his work for two reasons – hands-on learning and because “it’s a lot more fun.”

“I think having them be able to learn things by practice just enriches the experience,” Retzlaff said.

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Biological Sciences

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site