Campus as a Living Lab Initiative Gains Momentum

October 17, 2014 -- CNM’s Campus as a Living Lab initiative is continuing to take root as more faculty members are weaving the college's sustainability efforts into their curriculum.
July 16, 2015

Some instructors are using the four solar arrays on CNM campuses to teach math and chemistry; composting worm bins are being used in biology, geography, culinary arts and technical writing; and CNM’s recycling efforts have been highlighted in psychology and sociology courses.

“It’s really taking off,” said Carson Bennett, Campus as a Living Lab Faculty Liaison. “When CNM first decided to install the PV (photovoltaic) systems, it was an effort to offset energy costs. Now they are also thought of as educational tools.”

Three large PV units were installed earlier this year on the rooftops of Ken Chappy Hall on Main Campus, Westside I on the Westside Campus and at the Rio Rancho Campus. Another pair of smaller PV units that track the sun as it moves across the sky are located on the grounds of the Workforce Training Center.

PPC Solar, the company that installed the solar panels, predicts that the PV units, which are connected to the electrical grid, will save CNM $780,000 over the next 25 years. Because live data about how much electricity they produce is streamed on a website that’s available to all, the solar arrays are valuable teaching and learning opportunities.

For example, Sue Small, math instructor in the School of Adult & General Education (SAGE), uses them to teach the different units of electricity measurement and unit conversions. She also provided students in her class a CNM electricity bill to let them figure out how much money the solar arrays save CNM.

Rio Rancho Campus Technical Writing instructor Diane Paul asked her students to research PVs and write a formal report about whether or not solar arrays at CNM are a good investment. The students researched solar energy, wrote a proposal and verbally presented the information to the class.

Carol Martinez, a chemistry instructor, is using the PV units to teach students how PV converts photons into electrons (light into energy).

“I keep track of what everyone is doing and what is available from the Facilities (department) perspective,” Bennett said. “The ball is just beginning to roll.”

Bennett is visiting all of the schools’ faculty meetings, outlining what Campus as a Living Lab is and providing examples of how faculty are using it to teach. He also consults individually with faculty who have new ideas for Campus as a Living Lab projects.

He recently met with an instructor in the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC) department, Jeff Polk, who came up with the idea of using refrigerant leak detectors to assess campus buildings. Students would use the devices to detect expensive and environmentally harmful leaks in air conditioning units. The HVAC students would provide technical information about the leaks to a technical writing class. The technical writing students would then prepare a report for CNM’s Maintenance and Operations staff. The idea could potentially save CNM money while providing students with a real-world learning opportunity.

This fall the Campus as a Living Lab initiative is focusing on recycling. One sociology student is researching what motivates people to recycle. Others are creating educational materials about “single-stream” recycling that can be distributed around campus. Another is looking into the use of social media to encourage young people to recycle.

Also, since many faculty are using the composting worm bins, which are also part of CNM’s Campus as a Living Lab initiative and help to fulfill the Culinary Arts Department’s accreditation requirements, the Facilities office purchased four more. There are now eight active vermicomposting bins across all CNM campuses.

When he leaves the position of Campus as a Living Lab Faculty Liaison to go back to teaching English at the end of the school year, Bennett hopes to see the living lab model being embraced by faculty members across all the schools.