Road Trip: SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry

Living the green life

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This article was originally published in the America's Best Colleges 2008 edition.

The students at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry take great pride in being known as "stumpys." What exactly is a stumpy? "It's like you're an environmentalist and you like nature and a kind of tree-hugger type of mentality. We're not city slickers," says Ian Freeburg, a junior majoring in forest resources management. He's also president of the woodsmen team, 30 chainsaw-wielding men and women who take on other schools in wood-chopping and ax-throwing extravaganzas.

SUNY-ESF bills itself as the only college in the nation where all academic programs relate to the environment. The school's heart, seven buildings near the edge of the Syracuse University campus in upstate New York, reflects that: It isn't unusual to find students gathering different mosses from the campus and the surrounding forest or sitting in the dining hall classifying plants by genus and species. Almost every student completes a research project, and many majors require them. Students studying construction management, for example, build full-scale models of bridges, test them until they break, and analyze why they collapsed.

One curious feature of SUNY-ESF is that its students enjoy many of the amenities of Syracuse University, a 13,000-student private college, but at a fraction of the cost. ESF students may take classes at Syracuse, live in its dorms, use its gym, library, and health facilities, and attend religious services there. They can even join in club sports, although Syracuse draws the line at Division 1 athletics. However, tuition at Syracuse is $30,470, while ESF students pay only $4,350 tuition in state ($10,610 out of state). Room and board, fees, and other expenses are similar.

Despite the relationship with Syracuse, ESF has a distinct and environmentally sound culture of its own. Each freshman gets a reusable plastic cup that he or she can use through four college years and beyond. "We don't give paper cups away at events. We have to bring the ESF cup," says Sam Quinn, a senior studying conservation biology, pulling his own out of his bag and displaying it proudly. Students often take field trips in a green biodiesel bus the students call "the pickle bus." And Quinn managed to decorate his dorm—at Syracuse—in a way that only a stumpy could. "We had a tree stump in our lounge," he says. "It made a pretty good seat."