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Memories of SSU

Jean A. Falbo

Professor, Environmental Studies and Planning
1975-1999

Enviornmental Technology Center

Enviornmental Technology Center

            When the Environmental Studies Program (ENSP) was formed, under the leadership of Ken Stocking and Bruce Woelfel in 1972, the faculty discussed naming each classroom after someone important in the field of the environment or in planning. Thus we had the Ellen Swallow Room, the Frank Lloyd Wright Room and the St. Francis Room. That contrasted with the rather functional and dull administrative name of our building, the Cluster School Building. From time to time the ENSP faculty discussed making an effort to rename the building. The Chief Sequoia Building or the John Muir Building was tossed about and put aside for more pressing business.

            One day, in 1987, I crossed paths with Les Adler and one of his Hutchins colleagues on their way to their department meeting. We walked together for a few moments, during which I said with some irritation, “We should name this building Rachel Carson.” They nodded with sympathy and we parted. An hour later they emerged from their meetings having moved, seconded and adopted a resolution to name the building Rachel Carson Hall. That moved the ENSP faculty to get off the dime. I read a few books about Rachel Carson and summed up her life story as a biologist and writer of a series of books about the sea. It was her fact laden and reasoned argument about the dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, “Silent Spring,” that was one of the great landmarks in the development of modern environmentalism in the U.S. Jim Stewart picked up the ball and prepared the administrative request for the name change that had to pass through the filter of the campus planning committee and the administration on its way to Long Beach.

            It was approved with little fuss. We were rolling. Rocky Rohwedder organized a champagne celebration and sign unveiling. The Star covered the event. Suddenly, the Development people said, “Hey, do you think we can get some money for naming the building after Rachel?” Those were innocent days when our effort seemed somewhat whimsical to some, perhaps, but it certainly was not envisioned as a naming opportunity to raise money. We contacted the Rachel Carson Foundation, a modest little organization run by Rachel’s friends to look after her memory. The answer was, “No.” However, they did send us a nicely framed poster of Rachel Carson named to honor the accomplishments of a woman at SSU in 1988.

            I have another story to share that was already history by the time I joined the faculty in 1975. It probably happened in 1974. It was decided to pave the dusty square of land where the Environmental Technology Center and Gardens are today and make a parking lot there. Things were looser in those days and the parking lot was a local project, not even on the campus Master Plan. The dorm students got word of it and quickly mounted a protest. They dragged their beds out to the area and stayed up all night, listening to a 1970 Joni Mitchell folk tune, the Big Yellow Taxi, blasting full volume from the windows of the dorms. The song has a refrain; “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” The next morning the paving contractor drove up to the edge of the beds, piled out of his rig and headed for Acting President Jim Enochs’ office to discuss the matter. A number of campus people and student leaders talked it over for a few hours. In the end, the Administration paid the contractor some consideration for his inconvenience and he left. I doubt that the Environmental Technology Center and Gardens would ever have come into existence, but for the student protest because that is where they are located now.

            I think another story might be one describing the development of the Environmental Technology Center (ETC). I think it would add another facet about the contributions of long-term part-time faculty and it’s a clear case for developing both a building and a program from the bottom-up as a faculty initiative.

Let me share a skeleton of the ETC story. In the beginning, ENSP hired Joe Armstrong to teach the more technical courses for the Energy study plan. He had a PhD in Engineering from the University of Texas and a very impressive resume. Luckily, he was only interested in a part-time position which was just what we needed. I am not sure about the number of years he worked for us, but around ten (he retired before the ETC was completed). Once a year, he had his advanced class do team-created tabletop models of an Energy Technology Center. He then invited faculty, architects, builders and energy experts to hear each team present their model.

            When I returned from my 1990-1991 sabbatical at the U.S. Library of Congress four of us: Professors Armstrong, Rohwedder and I, along with A. George Beeler, a local architect knowledgeable about sustainable buildings, took his class models to the next level. We asked, “What if we…” This began a ten-year period of effort – a huge effort really – to conceptualize, to secure grant funding for our own tabletop model, to get administration support and finally a big push to raise the money to build the real thing and another considerable effort to hire a new colleague, Alexandra Von Meier, to take charge of the programs of the ETC.