A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Meet the KU Edwards Campus’ sustainability committee. We sat down with three of its committee members – Mark Jakubauskas, Mary Bujnak, and Tony Nubile – in December to learn how the campus is working to put sustainability at the forefront of student education and building operations.
The University of Kansas Edwards Campus sits at the corner of 127th Street and Quivira Road in Overland Park, Kan., serving approximately 2,000 students with 175 faculty and staff. Programs are geared toward upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and those who are pursuing certificate, continuing education and professional development credentials. Historically, the campus has catered to nontraditional students and working professionals, offering most classes in the evening.
“We pride ourselves on innovation and flexibility, and our programs are tailored toward the workforce needs,” says Mark Jakubauskas, Director of Health and Science Programs.
Part of this innovation is demonstrated in the growth of the campus’ sustainability-focused course offerings. The KU Edwards Campus offers more than 55 degrees and certificates – one of them being a master’s degree in environmental assessment that Jakubauskas created as one of the campus’ 10 new degree programs to serve workforce needs through the 2008 Johnson County Education and Research Triangle (JCERT) tax.
Jakubauskas is excited to add to that list of programs next fall with the launch of an undergraduate environmental studies program. Through a partnership with nearby Johnson County Community College (JCCC), students in environmental studies will be able to do their foundational courses for the first two years at JCCC, and then transition to KU Edwards for their final two years in the program.
“We’re really excited to have this partnership with JCCC, and to be able to start offering this new program next fall. There are so many career pathways for sustainability, and it’s an area that I think we’re only going to see tremendous growth in,” says Jakubauskas.
“Environmental studies is so broad-based – students might go for their bachelor’s of science and go on to work at places like Burns & McDonnell, Black & Veatch or EPA Region 7. Whereas, bachelor of arts students might go toward areas of policy or regulation.”
In addition to degree and continuing education offerings, the KU Edwards Campus incorporates sustainability into its day-to-day operations.
The campus itself covers 35 acres and includes four buildings covering 300,000 square feet. When the facilities aren’t being utilized by students, faculty and staff, the campus is a hotspot for hosting outside meetings, events, workshops and conferences.
“We work with a large variety of companies and industries to provide the facilities they need to meet their needs. We offer free parking – which is huge – and we have on-site facilities and tech support staff to help with any event,” says Mary Bujnak, event coordinator.
The campus’ varied audience has made the sustainability committee’s work interesting trying to address the needs of everyone – from students who are there every day to a one-time visitor attending an annual conference.
As many companies do, the sustainability committee started out by identifying the “low-hanging fruit” – changes that didn’t require a lot of work and weren’t a burden to the budget but were highly visible. They decided to tackle the campus’ recycling collection system. They first added recycling bins to offices. A grant from Johnson County’s Green Business Program, with matching funding from the campus, allowed them to purchase recycling containers for classrooms and public areas, improve their signage, and increase visibility of the program.
“When we started, we did not have recycling containers in classrooms or offices, and there were very few in common areas. In 2017, we added 200 recycling bins, first in office spaces. Just by doing that, we increased our recycling efforts by 100%. It really took the efforts of the committee to supercharge our recycling.”
“Our goal has been to have a recycling can next to every trash can in every space,” says Bujnak.
Because of their efforts, trash output decreased by one-third.
“It’s really been a campus-wide effort. We went into the program thinking ‘Let’s partner together with everyone who uses this building to make this the best that we can’,” says Bujnak.
The committee has moved beyond recycling to focus on other building operations. Tony Nubile, Facilities Manager, has spearheaded many of the campus’ energy efficiency initiatives. Nubile conducted a mechanical audit to look for opportunities to save resources and money through simple adjustments and improvements to the facility’s operational equipment. As a result, last winter the campus replaced old boilers in its Regents Center that were operating at 60% efficiency with ones that are 95% efficient.
“Tony wins the award for most money saved from sustainability measures,” says Jakubauskas.
“Most often people think about recycling, installing rain gardens, projects like that, but people don’t think about what’s hiding in the basement. There’s so much potential in the savings that can come from upgrading your equipment, and the paybacks can be very quick – one to two years.”
And, as Jakubauskas points out, you don’t even have to upgrade the equipment to see savings.
“The first year that Tony started looking at our mechanical operations, we were able to reduce our energy use by 15% entirely through optimization of what we already had. That wasn’t new equipment – that was simply looking at controls.”
One of Nubile’s current projects is improving lights in the Regents Center parking lot – replacing one light pole with 400 watts with four new 250-watt poles. Overall, the four new poles will use less power than the single pole alone, saving on utility costs while improving the security and safety of students and guests.
Other sustainability efforts include a light harvesting system in one of its buildings, , electric vehicle charging stations as part of KCP&L’s Clean Charge Network, and an annual Earth Day volunteer project to encourage faculty and staff involvement. A food waste diversion program in partnership with JCCC will debut soon.
The sustainability committee also works hard to involve students.
“Our students have really bought into it, which is really encouraging,” says Nubile. “We do a Sustainability Week every year where students can put their ideas for what projects they’d like to see or what suggestions they have on a whiteboard in one of our common areas. We’ve been able to implement some of their ideas, and it really gives them a sense of empowerment to make this their home. We also get really excited knowing that what they’re learning through their classes, they are putting into action.”
For more information on the KU Edwards Campus and its programs, check out the following links:
The KU Edwards Campus brings the high-quality academic, professional and continuing education programs, as well as research and public-service benefits of KU, to the Greater Kansas City community in order to serve the workforce, economic and community development needs of the region.
Learn more about the KU Edwards Campus and its undergraduate, graduate, certificate and professional development programs. KU Edwards offers the MetroKC rate, extending in-state rates to Missouri residents who meet qualifications.