IDEAS For Us | August 13, 2015

The New Tradition of Student-Driven Climate Action

The tradition of a senior class gift is a deep-rooted component of college culture that dates back to the earliest years of university life. As times have changed, the inspirations for gifts have remained particularly parallel, however, one continuity remains— the spirit of giving back. Though we already give a great deal of tuition to our colleges, the purpose behind a senior class gift is to leave an outstanding legacy for future generations and promote philanthropy. With environmental complications and concerns greatly exceeding the national-level, the Pennsylvania State University, Class of 2015 has elected to donate a solar panel array to the school as their final parting gift.SCG2015-1

Beginning construction in the Summer of 2015, the solar array received funding through donations from the senior class and kickstart profiles and was designed by a university-wide competition. In addition to the the array itself, the project will also come with a public web platform that aims to educate the Penn State community on solar power with actual data on the effectiveness of solar energy. The project as a whole will not only reduce Penn State’s current power consumption, but it also greatly proliferate awareness on the pertinence of sustainability.

The Class of 2015’s project has already surged excitement through out the university—especially through those already involved in developing more sustainable practice. Taylor Ryan, a Penn State student representative to the MorningStar solar home and member of the Penn State IDEAS team, described the array as “an incredibly vital opportunity for Penn State,” and also believes that the we can use the solar panels as a “learning mechanism surrounding topics such as renewable energy, sustainability, and overall structural/cultural change in society.”

Though the announcement of the solar array project came shortly after Penn State presented their initiative to reduce energy consumption from campus buildings by 20 percent, this is not the school’s first experience with an environmentally conscious senior class. In 2014, the graduating students of PSU decided to expand the Green Roof Terrace of the HUB-Robenson Center in conjunction with anticipated construction, however, the sustainability projects don’t stop with Penn State. Many other schools such as Emerson College, University of Washington, Yale, and Case Western Reserve have also utilized the tradition of orchestrated philanthropy to encourage sustainability through various different means. With sustainable senior class gifts becoming increasingly relevant, Ryan hopes PSU and other universities can encourage inspiration for other campuses to see a continuation of spreading green initiatives.

“I believe that Penn State has a duty to act as a leading example for similar institutions globally. We so often compete with other schools through projects such as blood drives and sporting events and therefore, it only seems appropriate that we may compete on a sustainability platform as well. I think such good-natured competition, especially with regards to long-lasting class gift legacies, could potentially propel the movement towards more sustainability initiatives in higher education.”


– IDEAS for UN Team Member, Alex Frederick