From exploring electric vehicle charging station implementation on campus, to boosting recycling in labs and dining halls, students in the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability Internship Program continue to drive sustainable change on the Blacksburg campus — and beyond.

In fact, the Office of Sustainability Internship Program was recently recognized at the state level for its efforts to promote a culture of sustainability at Virginia Tech.

The Office of Sustainability Internship Program received the 2019 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award Honorable Mention for its sustainability achievements at the 30th annual Environmental Virginia Symposium held in March.

Administered annually by the Department of Environmental Quality, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards recognize public, private, and nonprofit organizations for successful and innovative efforts to improve Virginia’s environment.

Going into its ninth year, the Office of Sustainability Internship Program provides students with invaluable opportunities to gain real-world insights and professional skills in sustainability and university operations. Approximately 20 interns participate in the academic year-long internship program every year.

Intern teams leverage the Virginia Tech campus as a living-learning laboratory, partnering with departments like Energy Management, Stormwater Management, and Dining Services, to conceptualize and implement innovative projects to help reduce the university’s environmental impact.

For example, in an effort to promote alternative transportation, one 2018-19 intern cohort is exploring the feasibility of installing electric vehicle charging stations across campus. Another cohort is leveraging GIS technology to create a campus map that highlights sustainability “hot spots,” including bike share stations, recycling containers, and more.

The notion that small behavior changes can have long-term sustainability impacts is the catalyst behind the majority of the intern public awareness campaigns and events.

Throughout the year, intern cohorts execute outreach and educational events in partnership with community organizations such as the YMCA, Town of Blacksburg, and the Blacksburg Farmers Market, as well as university-wide campaigns like Sustainability Week and RecycleMania. One cohort is even working to engage the next generation of sustainability leaders by developing stormwater education curriculum for middle school students.

“Over the past eight years, students in the Office of Sustainability Internship Program continue to make incredible strides in boosting sustainability at Virginia Tech,” said Denny Cochrane, director of sustainability. “We’re proud to be able to deliver a platform for students to gain real-world sustainability insights and skills that will serve them as future leaders and lifelong environmental stewards.”

“The most rewarding part of the internship is knowing my team is helping Virginia Tech become a more sustainable place and also contributing to the university’s national leadership in sustainability,” shared senior Sean Starkey, an intern cohort leader.

The Office of Sustainability, operated within Virginia Tech Facilities, was initiated by the Division of Administrative Services, now the Division of Operations, in 2007. The office was formally established in 2009 when the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment (VTCAC) was affirmed by the Board of Visitors. 

The VTCAC, now in its 10th year, serves as a cornerstone for guiding the university toward a greener, more sustainable future. It touches on all aspects of university sustainability and energy efficiency, including campus operations, facilities, curriculum, and research.

Under the VTCAC, the Office of Sustainability has responsibility for monitoring university energy usage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, coordinating programs and public awareness for campus sustainability, and managing a sustainability student internship program.

Along with delivering an impactful internship program, the Office of Sustainability continues to make extensive strides in reducing the university’s environmental footprint and building sustainability awareness.

Virginia Tech’s recognition through the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is a strong marker of success. STARS is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure sustainability performance. Virginia Tech earned its second STARS Gold Rating in 2017 for its advancement of sustainability through public awareness campaigns, academics, research, and operations.

For the ninth consecutive year, Virginia Tech ranks among the most environmentally responsible universities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, according to The Princeton Review. The guide highlights Virginia Tech’s rich opportunities for student engagement in sustainability through internships and campus events, among other distinguishing factors.

One of the most tangible and enduring impacts of the Office of Sustainability is its Green Request for Proposals Program (Green RFP). The Green RFP provides university funds to wholly student-generated sustainability projects. Since 2010, 65 student sustainability proposals for projects like solar charging tables, low-flow shower heads in residence halls, and more, have been approved and awarded over $650,000 toward implementation.

Learn more about sustainability achievements on campus in the Office of Sustainability Annual Report.

Click here to learn more about the Office of Sustainability Internship Program.

Sustainability Internship Award Photo 2019
The Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability Internship Program received the 2019 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award Honorable Mention for sustainability. From left: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde Cristman, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Joshua Saks, Virginia Tech Sustainability Director Denny Cochrane, and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor.