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University of Minnesota

Reaching out

April 26, 2009

An image showing a wind turbine, the recycling logo, and two people shaking hands.

This year, the University of Minnesota, Crookston, chapter of SIFE is collaborating on two new projects with the Red Lake Nation--an effort to launch a recycling program at the Red Lake high school and middle school, and an exploratory look at acquiring funding for one or more wind turbines.

UMC students collaborate with Red Lake Nation on sustainability projects

By Rick Moore

For the perennial champion Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) team at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, success means taking lessons about free enterprise from the classroom and sharing them with the greater community. SIFE projects are meant to teach the public about things like free-market economics, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability.

This year, the enterprising students of SIFE decided to expand their notion of community to include the Red Lake Nation—the American Indian community about 90 miles due east of Crookston. The Red Lake Nation is the focus of two of the team's new projects for this year: an effort to launch a recycling program at the Red Lake high school and middle school, and an exploratory look at acquiring funding for one or more wind turbines.

The impetus for choosing collaborations with Red Lake on recycling and wind-energy projects stems from Crookston's own efforts toward sustainability, says Marshall Johnson, the president of the Crookston Student Association and the Red Lake liaison for SIFE.

In speaking with members of the tribe, "We discovered that two of the main things we were looking to work with them on were two of their main needs"—recycling and reducing energy costs through alternative energy sources, Johnson says. It made sense to pick those areas, he says, because "our campus is moving more toward sustainability and sustainable practices."

So last fall, members of SIFE and Red Lake met with Lowell Rasmussen, vice chancellor for finance and facilities at the University of Minnesota, Morris, which has been at the forefront of the green-campus movement. The 367-foot-tall wind turbine in Morris currently generates more than half the electricity used on campus, and Morris has received authorization for three Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs), which puts the campus on a path to achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2010. According to Johnson, Rasmussen shared a wealth of information of what Morris has done in pursuit of alternative energy, and suggested the prospect of SIFE applying for CREBs in conjunction with Red Lake.

Johnson says the group hopes to meet with Rasmussen again this spring, and it plans to apply for CREB bonds by the next funding cycle in March 2010.

The recycling collaboration came as a result of the wind turbine discussions. "From that, we learned that they had no recycling initiative, so we jumped on board with that idea real quick," Johnson says.

SIFE members have the blueprints for the joint high school and middle school at Red Lake, and are looking at the best way to implement a recycling initiative. A "boilerplate" method of simply putting recycling containers next to trashcans may not work as well, Johnson notes, given that recycling has not been the norm at Red Lake. "It has to be behavioral modification—something that's with you in every aspect of your life," he says.

To that end, students involved in the project have been discussing possible themes for the initiative. One idea, says Johnson: "Our Mother the Earth: Protecting Mother Nature." He says the recycling initiative will go into effect in the fall.

Bringing home the hardware

"Students in Free Enterprise holds [its members] accountable to teach the world about free enterprise," says Eric Burgess, business management and marketing instructor at UMC and advisor for SIFE. There are six areas of focus: free-market economics, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, business ethics, business success skills, and environmental sustainability. "The teams are charged to put together projects that will teach people about those six criteria," he says.

Crookston's SIFE team has been exemplary in that regard. The UMC team won a 10th consecutive championship trophy at the SIFE regional competition in Minneapolis last month. According to Burgess, there are close to 30 colleges in the region and approximately five are chosen as champions each year, which means UMC's team has been among the elite, year in and year out. (The SIFE team will now advance to the national competition in Philadelphia May 10-12.)

For students, being a member of SIFE can have rewards beyond the competitions. SIFE is sponsored by Fortune 500 companies like Best Buy, Target, J.C. Penney, and Frito Lay, Burgess says, and corporate executives serve as judges at the competitions. Which puts students in direct contact with... well, great contacts.

Being in SIFE is "resume-building," Burgess says. "It's a link to guaranteed employment with very reputable, high-profile organizations. Not to mention that students have a lot of fun and make great friends and connections among themselves."

"They're able to see success within themselves and build power and drive for their future," says Tom Melhorn, the SIFE president who is also a member of the Crookston Student Association. He adds that SIFE is a great tool for UMC students to learn how to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-life situations.

"And you get to help people in the process," he says.

Johnson is excited about potential new wind turbines, regardless of where they might be located. One idea would be to have UMC and Red Lake share the energy from one or more turbines, but he would be happy if only one turbine was approved and it entirely served Red Lake.

"Even though Red Lake is 80 to 90 miles away, it's still our community," Johnson says.

For more information about the UMC SIFE team's success in the regional competition, see  the UMC release.

Related Links

Learn about SIFE