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Skidmore Unplugged

Posted: 11/05/2008

In Deb Hall’s Communications Design II class, “students learn how to develop a logo or symbol,” she says. “We work from business marketing practices and a vigorous brainstorming session to determine what attributes need to be conveyed and then apply the visual elements that best represent those ideas.”

“Creating a logo or symbol for a worthwhile cause is most gratifying,” says Hall, associate professor of art. “Designers and artists often work pro-bono for worthwhile causes.”

The worthwhile cause on which Hall’s students focused this term was “Skidmore Unplugged,” the energy conservation competition currently underway in eight residence halls.

The overall goal of this competition, explains Sustainability Coordinator Erica Fuller, is to “raise student consciousness about their energy consuming habits and give them immediate feedback on their efforts. When students can actually see the effects of their energy actions they are much more likely to continue their efforts. The competition creates an incentive by offering prizes to every student in the winning dorm and makes it fun.”

Planning of the communications campaign began in mid-October with a visit by Fuller to Hall’s class in Saisselin. In just two weeks, the class generated all of the concepts and collateral, created a “Skidmore Unplugged” page in Facebook, designed a ‘Captain Kill-a-Watt’ costume, and created a Web site that reports in real time each residence hall’s consumption of electricity. (Special kudos to senior Chris Sacca for that one, says Hall.)

After a brainstorming session with Fuller, each member of the class created a logo and the class discussed as a group the relative merits of each and determined a symbol, type treatment, color palette and tag lines. Working either alone or in groups, each student created materials that could be used in the campaign, including the logo, stickers and light switch reminders. Tips would be hung in the dorms to remind residents of everything from switching to acoustic guitar to taking shorter showers. The students wrote copy and created brochures, illustrations, posters, an email notice, a facebook group, and bulletin board materials.

“The students' creations are innovative, edgy and, perhaps most importantly, they’ve made the campaign fun,” says Fuller. During the course of Skidmore Unplugged, ten “Eco-Reps” – students supporting Fuller’s efforts in the residence halls -- are doing a light bulb exchange and individual room energy audits. To conduct these audits, they use a small device called a “kill-a-watt meter”, which reads out the energy consumption of each electrical appliance in a student's room.

“The light bulb exchange gives the students another tool to save energy and the energy audit is another venue for feedback on student energy consumption,” Fuller says. To make this competition possible,” Fuller explains, “Facilities Services installed individual electricity meters on each residence hall, so we can see electricity consumption in real time. This allows us to give students immediate feedback on their energy consumption habits. Chris Sacca's website displays the energy information in percent reduction so students can see how their residence hall is doing in the competition.”

“I learned a lot from visiting Deb's class,” Fuller says. “She facilitates a student-driven learning environment where she offers guidance, but gives students creative space so they feel ownership of their work. It was really inspiring to observe.”

A contribution from John Settel, former F. William Harder Professor of Management and Business, made possible the purchase of 800 compact fluorescent light bulbs and a variety of prizes. John Galt's sculpture class is designing a trophy that will be presented to the winning residence hall and kept for future competitions.

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