Commons Series #2 – Optimistic Innovators

It may seem like a stretch to talk about optimism in the face of growing climate change and environmental decline, but that is exactly what an eager audience was shown at the second Commons Series event on Tuesday, October 24. Three Harley students, Nate August ‘11, Davy Brooks ‘18, and Meg (Malone) Sternowski ‘06, confidently shared their individual pursuits in the field of sustainability, crediting Harley with encouraging their early thinking and experiences with this area of study.

Meg Sternowski kicked off the evening’s discussion. She is extremely passionate about sharing knowledge of the great things happening around Rochester and creating a resilient and empathetic community. With a background in Industrial and Systems Engineering and Sustainability, Meg works at Constellation Brands as their Corporate Environmental Sustainability Manager and manages and measures the company’s environmental footprint. Meg has a passion for waste – re-imagining, reusing, repurposing, and recycling to make a long term difference. As one of two employees dedicated to the topic of sustainability in a 8,000-person business, Meg spoke about how essential it is to take every opportunity to help make a difference for good.


Following Meg, Nate August described his work as the manager of the Wegmans Organic Farm & Orchard in Canandaigua, NY. Nate graduated from Cornell University’s Agricultural Sciences program in 2015 and now manages the many facets of the Wegmans farm. The farm works to integrate new research and technology with regenerative farming practices to increase the supply of regionally-grown, flavorful and nutritious food for Wegmans customers. Nate is passionate about exploring opportunities for innovation in the dynamic food production industry, while also finding agricultural practices that are efficient and enhance the land (rather than detracting from it).

The last of the three to share, Davy Brooks reflected back on their first exposure to sustainability work and the food-based courses they took two years ago that piqued their interest in the subject. Davy’s dive into sustainability work came through hands-on projects with the Harley bees, building in the workshop, and eventually independent studies where they considered the social side of community and sustainability, as well as the scientific side of it. Over their two years at Harley, Davy has  been involved in the design of the growing spaces, planting and managing the Micro-Farm, and maintaining the Harley bee hive within the Food and Farm program and maker ed offerings. Davy is currently working in an independent study to redesign the layout of the Harley Micro-Farm to maximize growing space and aesthetic appeal. 



The second half of the evening was a question/answer time for the panel, moderated by Seth O’Bryan, Commons Director.  When asked what schools could do to help increase awareness of sustainability efforts, the panelists answered: provide open-ended problem solving which result in positive changes in the school environment; make sustainability part of the ongoing dialogue of the school culture rather than just a class; bring green spaces to the center of the student experience; and give the students a forum when they can collaborate and reflect on their work.

As a fitting concluding question, Seth asked the panelists what they each hoped to accomplish in the coming year and why they were optimistic about the future.  Nate ended the evening sharing that, overall, people in operations naturally gravitate towards making systems more efficient and sustainable, and that the pursuit of sustainability is like enlightenment — never fully arriving, but constantly striving to be better.

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