You Can’t Manage What you Don’t Measure: Sustainability at USC

As the end of Spring Semester at USC approached, rather than my usual routine of frantically grading tons of projects and final exams as in previous semesters, I revved up to analyze a big sustainability-focused dataset (~6000 data points!)! As I mentioned in my last post– I recently changed career positions and am now a data analyst in the Office of Sustainability at USC! One of my first projects was to lead the development of USC’s first Sustainability Literacy, Culture and Behavior Survey that launched this past April! This survey will help USC gauge sustainability literacy, culture and behavior across USC through time (remember – you can’t manage what you don’t measure!) and it will help USC in its path to a gold STARS rating (current STARS rating is silver). We also added in several commuting questions to the survey for students to fill in some emissions-related data gaps to further assist USC’s 2025 carbon neutrality goal!

After developing the survey, implementing internal (USC) and external reviews (UCLA, CalTech and ASU – thank you!), myself and the sustainability team put in a ton of work to help market and distribute the survey! My boss- Mick Dalrymple (USC’s Chief Sustainability Officer) was key in getting top administration to approve survey distribution via email to every single person with a valid USC ID. We also implemented an incentive for all participants for a chance to win one of twenty $100 USC Bookstore e-gift cards. Our Sustainability Director, Ellen Dux gets the credit for telling me to come up with a marketing plan (that was a new experience!) to spread the word. Nichelle Huizar and Cynthia Tucker helped me locate places around USC where I could put up sandwich board and yard signs (that was good exercise btw! I think I lapped USC DPS on their rounds several times that day…). Elias Platte-Bermeo and Joshua Sierra were a huge help in marketing the survey at our Earth Week Events (and helping me carry the signs around!). Student interns helped me post fliers all around campus, as well as spread the word to their friends and our marketing specialist Erin Jebavy made sure that the survey was on all of the possible digital boards, social media, websites and newsletters. As Ellen says: Team work makes the Green Work!!

USC’s 2022 Sustainability Survey Response Distribution

In the end, ~ 6000 responses wasn’t bad for our first go around! As we will be conducting the survey every year, I think we will be able to garner more participation through time. I recently finished organizing and cleaning the data and I am now looking forward to analyzing and visualizing the data. We plan to release the full and executive summary reports in the Fall– so stay tuned for more on that soon!

In addition to the survey, I’ve also been working on automizing the process of classifying courses and programs at USC as sustainability focused, inclusive or unrelated. I’m currently collaborating with a group at Carnegie Mellon on this as they had an amazing mathematics undergraduate that started developing an R package to map courses to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. So this Summer, I’ll be working with CMU and a USC undergraduate to expand the package to map curricular programs and research as well. It’s exciting because I get to combine my passion for sustainability with my data analytics and R-skills! Go R Power!

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

I’m also exploring an initiative to implement an Open-Access Policy, Fund and Repository at USC similar to what the UCs, Harvard, Massachusets Amherst and many other Universities are doing (If you are interested in this, then click on each of the links above). In a nutshell the way this works is that the University holds a non-exclusive copyright of the written scholarly work of employees so that then a researcher can submit their peer-reviewed accepted paper to the publicly available university repository (this is GREEN OPEN-ACCESS and is free!). This does NOT prevent employees from submitting their work to their preferred journal. If a journal does not agree with this open-access set up, then the researcher can obtain a waiver from the University and waive out of submitting their paper to the open-access repository. If a researcher waives out, then ideally they have funds to publish in the journal’s open-access option (GOLD OPEN-ACCESS, which is expensive.. just like gold). If the researcher does not have funds- they can apply to the University’s open-access fund so that they have the funds necessary to publish through the Journal’s Gold Open-Access. The University’s library is usually the one to host the open-access policy, repository and fund. So far myself, two librarians and a staff member in the Office of Research have met with an open-access consultant from Harvard – Dr. Peter Suber– (offers free OA consulting). Our next step is to try to find some open-access faculty champions at USC to spread the word and garner more support. (Please let me know if you work at USC and you are interested!) Open Access = Equity = Advancement for All!

Open Access benefits, from Aston University Library Services-

Aside from these fun projects and others (will fill you in more later)- I’ve also been enjoying my time off on weekends- and have been spending a lot of time gardening and going on lots of adventures -from snowboarding in Mammoth Mountains, kayaking in San Luis Obispo while visiting one of my best friends- to camping in and exploring the Anza Borrego Desert, motor-dirt biking in Hungry Valley (Lancaster CA)- and going to Washington DC for my mom’s (Anita Hopper) induction ceremony into the National Academy of Sciences (Go mom!) and visiting some old friends. All in all- I’m enjoying this new position greatly! I have a better work-life balance and feel like I can really make an impact. More soon!