Launch party signals opening of campus greenhouse

graden party themed greenhouse opening invitation

Leveraging its expertise in environmental science and a core commitment to stewarding Earth’s resources, Mercyhurst University launches its latest green initiative, a campus greenhouse, while simultaneously announcing a new major in Sustainability Studies for Fall 2024.

It all begins with a launch party on Monday, Nov. 20, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the third floor of Zurn Hall, where guests can tour the rooftop greenhouse, chat with professors, and learn about the university’s newest major.

The 16 x 24 greenhouse, installed by Arcadia Glasshouse of Madison, Ohio, was financed through the Student Sustainability Fund and supported by the Sustainability Club, involving club President Erin Smith, Vice President Brenna Lehotsky, Treasurer Maggie Pete, and Co-secretaries Emma Stitzenberg and Anna Cook. Mercyhurst Associate Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Chris Dolanc was instrumental in its creation. 

The structure is made of polycarbonate and features seven benches, one sink with hose attachment, three grow lights to stimulate growth in winter and early spring, a shade cloth, and ventilation system.

“We will be using the greenhouse as year-round storage for plants used in biology, botany, and ecology, as well as a conservatory for interesting plants that otherwise could not grow in our region,” said Sustainability Coordinator Molly Tarvin. “We will use it to start seedlings for our Tower Gardens, which we share with local schools and organizations, as well as for jumpstarting the outdoor growing season by planting seeds to transplant into campus gardens after the frost. We'll also use it for Sustainability Club events, and for experiments for senior theses and class projects.”

Dolanc elaborated, adding that the greenhouse serves three main functions: (1) a conservatory for plants used in courses, exhibiting a wide variety of features to show students; (2) a research facility for both students and faculty, especially with the use of grow lights; and (3) a resource to support the new Sustainability major and Environmental Science program.

“Until now, we have had no place to store and grow plants used in labs, and no way to control light and temperature for research purposes, and no good place to experiment with sustainable crops,” Dolanc said. “The greenhouse brings to fruition all of these objectives. It also provides students with new opportunities to get involved, learn how to take care of plants, and run a greenhouse. I am not surprised that students were already approaching me and volunteering to help water plants months before the greenhouse was built; it’s a refreshing place to be on a cold winter day.”

Mercyhurst has long maintained a campus environment supportive of sustainability and, in recent years, has seen that commitment grow, especially as a priority of President Kathleen A. Getz, Ph.D.

For Getz, sustainability is a big-picture concept. She guided Mercyhurst as one the first 100 Catholic universities around the world to adopt the Laudato si’ Action Platform inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical in which he urges “care for our common home.” Essentially, he asks that institutions come together in a holistic approach to some of the political, social, economic, and environmental problems facing the world today.

“This integral view resonates deeply with the ethos of the Sisters of Mercy,” Getz said. “Across the country and within our region, many sustainability efforts focus exclusively or primarily on our physical environment. At Mercyhurst, however, we take the broader view, considering people and prosperity as well as the planet. With this approach, challenges are studied from multiple perspectives, leading to better solutions.”

Meanwhile, History Professor Dr. Chris Magoc is leading the launch of the new Sustainability Studies major, which debuts in Fall 2024. The Bachelor of Arts degree offers an interdisciplinary and flexible curriculum that gives students a holistic understanding of global climate change and carbon emissions, land use and food production, renewable energy systems, and sustainable economic development.

Drawing on the university’s nearly 25-year commitment to sustainability, upper-level experiential courses will have students working with campus and community partners to sharpen their problem-solving skills and graduate as prepared professionals in the sustainability field.

“We could not be more excited to announce our reimagined Sustainability Studies major,” Magoc said. “Firmly grounded in the Mercyhurst mission, the program will prepare students to engage the immense environmental challenges that increasingly shape our world, and provide them with the knowledge, skills, and unique experiences to become change agents in sustainability.”