My Experience at AASHE 2014

January 12, 2015
With my colleagues Dustin DeMatteo and Allison Jenks.

With my colleagues Dustin DeMatteo and Allison Jenks.

Claudia Sisomphou

The moment we arrived in Portland, Oregon I felt like I had stepped into a sustainable paradise! The TriMet Transport System was the best public transportation I have ever used. Purchasing tickets and finding out which rail to get on was incredibly cheap and simple. There were wide bike paths in the middle of the streets so bikers could be easily seen and many of the residents were using them even in the pouring rain.

I was in Portland to represent the Center for Community Engagement at the 2014 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference (AASHE). The experience was greater than I could have ever imagined, and the knowledge and inspiration I gained reminded me why I am so passionate about what I do.

I traveled with two colleagues from the University, Allison Jenks the Sustainability Senator for Associated Students, and Dustin De Matteo our Sustainability Ambassador of Culinary Services. It was wonderful to get to know them both on a more personal level and I now consider them great friends. Professor Jeff Baldwin, a Geography faculty member here at Sonoma, also accompanied us on the trip. His guidance and support could not have been more valuable, and one of the best things he said to us during the trip was to "never let class get in the way of a good education."


At the AASHE conference I attended a variety of workshops including Student Activism to Catalyze Campus Sustainability, Environmental Justice: Bridging the Gap Between Sustainability and Justice, Redefining the Norms of Waste Management Through Behavioral Changes, Exploring Diverse Foodways Through a Campus Farmers Market, and so many other exceptional presentations. I learned that the most successful solutions come from the members within the community that are seeking change. Every city has its own unique problems and no one has better insight to solve them than the people who have to live with them everyday. We were also fortunate enough to receive the wisdom of fabulous Keynote speakers such as Andy Keller, the creator and CEO/President of ChicoBag, Anna Lappe, an author and the project director of the Real Food Media Challenge, and Annie Leonard, the creator of the animated film, The Story of Stuff. It was amazing to hear these activists tell their first-hand experience of progress. Although the challenges each of them faced were intimidating, they never let it stop them from going through with their projects and making a positive impact in our world.


While I learned a lot, the best part about the experience was connecting with other environmental activists. At AASHE I met students, teachers, business owners, and nonprofits from across the nation, and even some from around the world. I met students from Ohio University that are working with their College's sports stadium to make their events more sustainable. I met students from Hawaii University fighting to get composting on their campus, and for the entire Island. I met a teacher who reached out to students and other professors on her campus to transform the school's curriculum requirements to include and address sustainability. I met an organization that helps Universities develop Green Revolving Funds, which direct a portion of the school's budget towards sustainable infrastructure projects that will actually save them money. I met the Head of Sustainability for the National Union of Students in the UK and with him discussed ways of seeking out funding for projects, and the possibility of forming a Union of Students here in California!

The trip wouldn't have been complete without dining on some fantastic Portland food. Every restaurant prided themselves in highlighting where the meat and produce they used came from, and more often than not every ingredient was grown locally! Portland's dedication to sustainability is visible in its citizens, infrastructure, and communities. I recommend visiting the city to anyone who is interested in great food, great sights, and no sales tax! I hope that other places will soon follow in Portland's footsteps and realize the benefits to adding sustainability to its priorities.


I am so grateful for having had this opportunity to expand my understanding of sustainability and to have met so many inspiring people who are making a difference in their communities every day. The most important lesson I learned is that creating change is not a sprint, nor is it a marathon. Making change is a relay race, and the more we work together the faster and stronger the outcome will be. This six day trip was well worth the inconvenience of missing school, and I am thankful to all of my instructors for supporting my decision to go to AASHE. This experience was life changing and I cannot wait to discuss the progress all of us have made at next years' AASHE Conference in Minnesota!