By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — The commitment to sustainability falls into three categories for St. Ambrose University: infrastructure, community engagement/student education and commitment.
Dennis Tarasi, associate professor and chair of the biology department, and his wife, Megan Tarasi, director of annual giving and grants, serve as volunteers on the university’s sustainability committee. SAU has been expanding its presence for years in each of the categories:
SAU installed underground tanks that collect rainwater to water grass, plants and anything else outdoors, Dennis Tarasi said. Installation of LED lights and energy-efficient windows is done whenever possible throughout campus. More efficient boilers are used when alternatives to boilers are not possible.
Community engagement/student education
The university holds four community roundtables annually to collaborate on current and future needs. Career services works with SAU students as well, he noted. Community events include Earth Day, which has grown from 10 vendors to 30 vendors in three years. A one-day sustainability festival expanded to one week. Students participating in Litter Palooza this year collected 1,100 pounds of litter from the surrounding neighborhoods, 400 pounds more than last year. SAU has collaborated with River Action and Nahant Marsh for film viewings and more.
Outdoor space has become more eco-friendly. SAU started a pollinator garden in 2020 outside Lewis Hall. Educational signage has been added to the expanded pollinator garden outside Hayes Hall. SAU acquired Bee certification for its pollinator/native planting efforts, just one of two campuses in Iowa to do so. On the St. Vincent Center property, a community garden to benefit Café on Vine was started. Groundskeeper Kevin Nagel also maintains three bee hives at the SVC property. “We are the bees,” Dennis Tarasi said.
SAU, with student workers and volunteers’ help, has worked on programs and workshops related to Laudato Si and green initiatives for the university and community at large. The sustainability committee’s membership totals 30, all volunteers from faculty and staff to students and alumni. “All of these people dedicate their time and money,” Megan Tarasi said.
Solar for the future
The Tarasis are excited about the prospect of solar energy in SAU’s future. SAU President Amy Novak and Bishop Thomas Zinkula “are very vocal on sustainability,” Megan Tarasi said. An alumni advisory council with persons passionate about environmental investing meet virtually — to allow people throughout the country to be part of the discussions. Mike Poster, SAU’s vice president for finance, has been very open to solar initiatives, Dennis Tarasi said.
The solar committee has explored power purchase agreements, maintenance, and working with SAU’s energy provider regarding possibilities, pros, cons and hoops to go through. A study of campus buildings was conducted. The soft launch of a campus solar project took place during this year’s Earth Day event on campus and generated more interest than expected, Megan Tarasi said. The volunteer committee has begun the process to seek grants, private funding and other options.
You can view a video about the solar project at tinyurl.com/SAUSolar24. Reasons to include solar energy, Dennis Tarasi said, are to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, provide consistent utility bills and pay back dividends for years to come while affirming SAU’s commitment to a more sustainable future.
The size of arrays, or panels, and which building or lots may hold them has not been set in stone. Any future construction plans would consider solar. “There could be a huge return on our investment,” Megan Tarasi said.
“This makes sense for the long term. We need to change, adapt and respond” to what is happening in the world, Dennis Tarasi said. “We are still in the early stages but are excited about where we will go. We have to invest and more forward.” The university conducts a master campus plan every 10 years. Solar will feed into the next plan, which is in the works, Megan Tarasi added.
For more information about the solar project and sustainability at St. Ambrose University, visit www.sau.edu or email firstname.lastname@example.org.