Assistant Professor of Psychology Ali O’Malley wanted her “Humans and the Natural Environment” course to have an impact on both the students and the Indianapolis community.
And it did.
Nine students from the class helped collect data that enabled the Unitarian Universalist Church, 615 W. 43rd St., to get an Indiana Office of Energy Development grant to install solar panels that will reduce the church’s energy use by 25 to 40 percent.
Students Brianne Taylor, Brianna White, Emily Drwiega, Sara Rose Smith, Katelyn (Katie) Breden, Jahi Gains, Marina Ito, Rachel Houska, and Lindsay Meyer worked with members of the “Green Team” at the Unitarian Universalist Church to help develop a strategic plan for energy conservation.
Then they walked the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood to gather residents’ opinions about various sustainability issues, including bike lanes, public transportation issues, the state of sidewalks, and access to parks. The church also wants to create a bigger community garden, so they tried to gauge interest in that as well.
That information was used in the grant application that the church filed in conjunction with Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that seeks to inspire and equip Hoosiers of faith to respond to climate change.
In the end, the state Office of Energy Development gave $150,000 to six congregations in Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Breden, a freshman from South Bend, Ind., said she was excited when she heard the grant was approved and happy to have taken a course that enabled her and her classmates to apply the course material in a meaningful way.
“The knowledge gained in this class is immensely useful,” she said. “I took this class because I’m passionate about the environment, and Dr. O’Malley taught me the psychology behind it. Why am I passionate? Why are others not? Why do some people simply not care? These are all important questions if I want to forge a career in advocating for a healthy earth.”
O’Malley initiated “Humans and the Natural Environment”—which she called “conservation psychology”—in spring 2012. In fall, she taught it for the first time as part of Butler’s Indianapolis Community Requirement, in which students must take one course in any part of the University that involves active engagement with the Indianapolis community.
She said she’s proud of what her students accomplished.
“It was wonderful to watch students’ uncertainty give way to commitment to our community partner’s mission,” O’Malley said. “I’m so proud of their openness and their collective achievements.”