UMass’ Josh Stoffel wins outstanding student award

By Sam Butterfield

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University of Massachusetts Sustainability Coordinator Josh Stoffel, who is also a graduate student in higher education administration, has been selected to receive the Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate Student Award for the state of Massachusetts from NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, a professional association for student affairs administrators and staff.

NASPA chose Stoffel, according to a Friday release from UMass’ Office of News and Media Relations, for his contributions to campus life, academic merits, his leadership of the campus’ sustainability initiatives and his participation in student affairs-related issues. The organization recognizes one student per state, according to the release, and, according to Gary Malaney, the coordinator of UMass’ higher education master’s program, Stoffel is “the most accomplished student he has ever nominated for the top state honor.”

Stoffel has been involved in green energy planning and environmental affairs at UMass since his undergraduate days here last decade, according to the release. During his senior year of 2007-2008, he established the “eco-rep” program, now a “nationally recognized model for student involvement in sustainability activities and peer education,” according to Friday’s release. In that time, he reached out to underclassmen in the science and energy fields, enlisting them to learn some fundamentals of green energy and conservation and planting the seeds for what would become a dedicated corps of students interested in making the campus more sustainable.

One year later, Stoffel had some 70 eco-reps planning and running monthly green-themed events across campus residence halls.

“The main tactic that the eco-rep program employs to more effectively educate students about current environmental issues is allowing students to educate each other,” Stoffel said last September, when he was first appointed sustainability coordinator.

This year, he has 24 sustainability interns continuing the efforts he and those eco-reps took on several years ago. Stoffel designed the internship program, which offers participants academic credit.

In an October release, Stoffel said his dynamic interns spread environmental awareness and savvy much further than he could on his own.

“[The interns] allow us to get the message out on a much larger variety of projects than one sustainability coordinator could possibly hope to accomplish alone,” he said.

Stoffel said he believes student passion for a brighter future powers UMass’ efforts to reduce energy use.

“When students have a passion for something and they want it to happen, they take the power. They have the energy to overcome institutional obstacles,” he said.

While these efforts might seem like a more than well-built resume for most students, Stoffel has continued to grow his vision for a greener UMass as a graduate student. Among other endeavors, Stoffel works full time on the sustainability initiative while maintaining a full class schedule, contributing to a set of green building design guidelines for UMass, catalyzing and implementing a school-wide Climate Action Plan, which outlines greenhouse gas reduction goals, working to create a green office plan, and creating a green move-out program at the end of the academic year to conserve materials which might otherwise turn into landfill.

Stoffel’s efforts have not gone unnoticed outside UMass or the sustainability and student affairs communities. On Oct. 19, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) recognized UMass with its 2010 “Leading by Example” award for outstanding sustainability efforts in higher education. Stoffel and Chancellor Robert Holub traveled to Boston to accept the award.
UMass, the Commonwealth’s largest consumer of energy among state facilities, according to the EEA, brought down greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent from 2002-2004 baseline numbers. The reduction was three years ahead of the state’s 25 percent target, and, according to an October release from News and Media Relations, is equivalent to taking some 8,000 cars off the road.

A Franklin, Mass., native, Stoffel recently addressed a group of sustainability figures at an annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Denver, Colo. At that conference, Stoffel discussed his role in mentoring green interns and his passion for fostering climate change and sustainability awareness in students.

“Student involvement is the crux of everything we do here and the underpinning of sustainability efforts here on campus,” Stoffel told News and Media Relations. “Much of my work is to foster that involvement, to find ways that student ideas and energy can be channeled into peer education and action projects.”

Lanza’s professors and mentors showered him with praise for his commitment and constructiveness.

Guy Lanza, a professor of environmental conservation, said Stoffel “is one of those rare students who arrives on the scene with the ability to both identify environmental challenges and quickly provide practical solutions.”

Lanza said in the release that many students have the ability to identify problems or to work towards remedying them, but that few, unlike Stoffel, excel in both categories.

“Although many students can do a good job with one or the other aspects of meeting and solving an environmental challenge, few can do both with the consistent success that is clearly part of Josh’s record at UMass Amherst.”

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]