Dr. Gulnick’s legacy of sustainability
by Kimberly Post
As a chemist, marine scientist, and environmental educator, Dr. Jeanne Gulnick has championed sustainability at Saint Joseph’s College for 17 years, transforming curriculum, campus culture, and operations in very tangible ways. In the process, she has influenced thousands of students, saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy and waste expenses, and helped to institutionalize the best practices of sustainability.
Although the Sisters of Mercy and their commitment to Critical Concerns provided the backdrop for Gulnick’s impact, almost everything the College has accomplished in regards to sustainability can ultimately be traced back to initiatives that Dr. Gulnick started.
Case and point, consider the changes to academic programming. Upon arriving at Saint Joseph’s, she successfully advocated for the inclusion of sustainability education in the Core curriculum; this resulted in Environmental Science 300: Ecology and the Environmental Challenge, which she teaches with her colleagues in the Sciences Department. Thousands of juniors have enrolled in this course that teaches basic ecological principles, major environmental challenges facing Earth, and potential solutions. Using College agricultural operations as a teaching laboratory, all students learn about the adverse effects of large-scale, industrial agriculture that dominates food production and, through hours of hands-on farm experience, learn how to produce food with less fossil fuel dependence. Dr. Gulnick also created the Sustainability Studies minor, which allows students to examine sustainability through an interdisciplinary lens.
As Sustainability Coordinator, Dr. Gulnick not only fostered a green culture on campus through her creation of the student EcoReps and EcoManagers, staff E-Team, and the Go Green and Go Home program, but she institutionalized it by gaining commitment for sustainability at the highest level. More than 700 students have served as EcoReps, the student leaders in recycling and energy conservation. EcoManagers educate in the residence halls, promoting sustainable behavior while leading entrepreneurial projects, events, and competitions. When students move out at year’s end, the Go Green Go Home program diverts tons of unwanted possessions to recycling, the local food pantry, and Goodwill. And she successfully convinced not one but two Saint Joseph’s presidents to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, putting the College on the path to carbon neutrality by 2036.
Jeanne’s infectious passion for the care of Earth inspires her friends, colleagues, and students. The genuine quality of her leadership has attracted like-minded individuals from a range of backgrounds and expertise. She has forged relationships throughout the campus community and beyond to enable progress toward sustainability goals and one is as likely to see Jeanne conceptualizing a new waste management system with the director of facilities as dumpster diving with students for a trash study. Her influence has been felt at an operational level as well, in Facilities. After obtaining a Dorr Foundation grant, Dr. Gulnick examined energy use on campus, encouraging students to use their surroundings as a living laboratory to learn about the energy use of appliances and equipment and assist in creating solutions and implementing changes. Working with the Waste Management Committee resulted in the replacement of trash bins with recycling and composting stations around campus. Supporting students resulted in the successful “Take Back the Tap” campaign in which five gallon water dispensers were replaced with eco-friendly bottle refilling stations. And to encourage accountability, she pushed the College to adopt AASHE’s STARS, the transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to gauge relative progress toward sustainability. This year, Saint Joseph’s earned a Silver Stars rating, one of 211 colleges and universities to do so across the United States.
Rarely does an individual come along with the tenacity and conviction needed to have such a lasting influence. Dr. Gulnick will be missed.