Meet Reed’s New Sustainability Coordinator

Following the trends of similar schools in recent years, Reed College has created a new staff position: the Sustainability Coordinator. Rachel Willis, new to Reed, has enthusiastically stepped into the role in her first few weeks on campus. In an interview with the Quest, Willis broke down the responsibilities of a Sustainability Coordinator at Reed, as well as some of her own goals and aspirations for integrating sustainable practices with Reed’s infrastructure, culture, and landscape.

Willis has a background in sustainability for higher education, working in Portland for the past eight years, going to graduate school and holding an AmeriCorps position with Portland Public Schools. Willis’ dedication to sustainability in higher education was clear: “When I saw that Reed was hiring their first-ever [sustainability] position, I jumped on it.”

Willis described how the trend to hire a full-time sustainability coordinator began in the early 2000’s and spread rapidly. She was surprised at Reed’s lack of such a position but came to learn that Reed has been coordinating sustainability for years through other channels, and especially through student voices: “I felt really, really reassured when I came to campus. I know that a few particular students really pushed to have this position created.”

Willis noted that prior to her hire, the sustainability committee, grounds crew, and numerous faculty researchers have championed sustainability changes in a more decentralized manner. She sees her role as Sustainability Coordinator as complementing the existing network of sustainably-minded community members. “In order for sustainability to be as effective as it can be, it needs to be integrated across campus, it needs to be interdisciplinary, it needs to be woven into the fabric of the culture of the school.”

Creating ambitious yet achievable goals is one key part of how Willis wants to approach the future from her position. Inspired by permaculture, Willis wants to “observe and interact” with the Reed ecosystem, including the culture and systems that interact to form the College.

“One goal is to have goals, and find a way to collect data and to start chipping away at some of our footprint.” Broadly, Willis focuses on three dimensions of sustainability at Reed: student engagement; faculty and curriculum; and operations and staff. Willis is actively engaged with students, staff, and faculty in order to broaden her net of ideas and energy for sustainable movements that fit within the Reed ecosystem.

On a smaller scale, Willis is already trying to find ways in which she can pioneer new sustainability projects. One project that she shared was to ramp up bike storage capacity to make storing bikes easier and safer across campus. Another project that Willis has taken on is collecting and organizing resource use data for buildings around campus in order to pinpoint systems that could be operated or managed more efficiently. Willis also has some hopes of creating paid student positions to work with the grounds crew to manage the orchard, pollinator garden, or perhaps even the neglected garden area.

Sustainability is a tool for thinking about complex systems of power, privilege, and resource management, according to Willis. “I see it as a way of knowing, of understanding and seeing the world… I would love to see it touch every part of campus, and for us to think longer term, beyond ourselves, beyond this generation.” Willis shared her optimism for the future of sustainability at Reed: “Reed has so many amazing minds and amazing people… we can be doing extraordinary things… I don’t expect change to happen overnight, but I think there are amazing opportunities here on campus.”

This time of year, Rachel Willis smiles at the lemony scent of the Daphne blooming warmly around her neighborhood. The Quest welcomes you to Reed!

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