Valencia Students Learn About Sustainability in the Workplace


Shirsat sits with three of her four service learning students at their weekly mentor meeting. From left to right: Michael Shawn Cabrera, Mia Cabotaje, Ryan Singh, Resham Shirsat.

Sam Schaffer, Contributing Writer

Many people think of sustainability as an environmental issue, but the money that can be saved by conserving resources is quickly making sustainability an important part of running a business.

“Ninety-three percent of CEOs identify sustainability as a critical challenge facing their company today and thats because they are all competing for all those resources that we need to produce their product or their service,” says Valencia Director of Education for Sustainability Resham Shirsat.

That’s one of the reasons Valencia will launch an energy management and controls technology AS degree in fall of 2018. According to Valencia’s website, “The program teaches students how to manage and control a building’s electrical and mechanical systems efficiently using a broad range of current and emerging technologies.” It will be the first program of it’s kind in Florida added Shirsat.

Valencia’s website also quotes the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations saying, “Sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Shirsat says sustainability is important. “We have to survive through time, you can’t just go through all of your resources. We live on a finite planet and our population is increasing everyday so we have almost 8 Billion people on the planet, finite resources, and were competing for those resources.”

Shirsat was previously in operations focusing on optimizing water and energy efficiency but has recently shifted to the academic side of things to get sustainability integrated in the curriculum and create opportunities for students in sustainability through community partnerships.

There are a number of opportunities for students to consider if they are interested in learning more about sustainability.

The new energy management program directly aligns with the new policies of the city so graduates will have jobs to go into after graduation.

Valencia is also starting an internship program with the Smart Cities initiative, which will focus on leveraging technology and data to make better decisions and be more efficient with resources and labor.

Beginning next year there will be a Fleet Farming service-learning program where students will plant, maintain and harvest gardens in the yards of Paramore residents. Students will use bikes for transportation to eliminate emissions and the residents will get to keep 10 percent of the harvest.

Shirsat is mentoring four service-learning students that are working at the Orlando City Soccer stadium this semester measuring the stadiums infrastructure needs in order to start recycling.

“It’s definitely a humbling experience, we’re basically trash runners when we go to [an] Orlando Soccer [game]. We’re pushing the carts, tossing stuff out of the bins, sorting through recycling. You see what hard work comes in,” says 20 year old service learning student Mia Cabotaje.

Their first day trying to implement recycling strategies at the stadium was when Orlando hosted the USA v. Panama World Cup qualifier. They put out big blue bins and told vendors to spread the word about recycling, then they spent the game running around emptying overflowing bins. On that night the service learning team recycled over 740 pounds of recyclables that would have otherwise been thrown away.

Valencia also makes efforts to operate sustainably. “All of our new buildings are either LEED or Green Globe standard so that building will be efficient in energy and water,” says Shirsat.

Valencia also uses building automation to schedule classes in a way that uses energy efficiently by doing things like shutting down buildings while they’re not being used.

“We live in a more transparent world with social media so people know how you’re operating, what your supply chain looks like. So they want better products, they want them more ethically sourced, they want to make sure that the workers are treated fairly, the communities in which companies operate are treated fairly.” Shirsat says these are all things that go along with sustainability.