Chris Canning '07
Chris Canning ’07 always thought he might return to Avon Old Farms some day – he just didn’t know that day would be so soon!
While perusing the local Hill-Stead farmer’s market, Chris ran into faculty member Graham Callaghan ’95, who invited him to come check out the school’s new community garden. Chris soon found himself back on campus and talking with Headmaster LaRocque about the new director of sustainability position that was available. And the timing couldn’t have been any better.
Chris, who graduated from Oberlin College in the spring of 2012, had spent his college career immersing himself in sustainability and the environment. “The campus was ripe with energy and ideas surrounding this new and exciting field,” explains Chris, who helped run the Oberlin Ecolympics for two years, and also participated as a member of the Oberlin Environmental Dashboard think tank. In the spring of 2012, at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference at Ball State University, Chris presented important research findings supporting how real-time feedback can be used to educate, motivate, and empower students living in dormitories to conserve electricity and water.
Although Chris seems to have found his calling in his sustainability efforts, his path wasn’t always so clear. After graduating from Avon Old Farms in 2007, he embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime: a gap year, spent traveling in Europe. The year began in Salamanca, Spain, where he took Spanish language classes. During his European tour, he took trips to Portugal and Italy in addition to traveling around Spain. He traveled throughout Latin America, often for stretches with fellow Winged Beavers, touring Costa Rica with Ben Kimmerle ’06, teaching English classes and translating for a medical clinic in Ecuador with Mike Cesaro ’06, working at an orphanage teaching swimming lessons in Panama, and hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru with Dan Cardon ’06.
In addition to enjoying his travels, Chris found the gap year to be personally transformative. “In many ways, my travels were an extension of my education, but in a less traditional form,” he explains. “My time away from home and out of the country allowed me to gain some real life experience — how to manage my money, how to spend my time, how to interact with people with different lifestyles. It turned me into a more open-minded, cultured, educated person.”
Chris also took note of different cultures’ views on sustainability, observing his host families’ conservation efforts, fresh eating habits, and waste management. “What we think of as waste here in America is not considered waste in other parts of the world,” he says. “Food waste is composted, clothing is reused or repurposed as rags, electronics are repaired, and anything else that can be salvaged is recycled. Waste is minimized. We should adopt this mentality here in the U.S.,” he comments.
Even more, he hopes to bring it to Avon Old Farms. “As the gardening season slows down, I hope we can focus on managing better our campus waste in all its forms: food waste in the refectory, trash and recycling produced in the dorms, and electronic waste,” notes Chris, who also hopes to conduct waste audits in the Refectory as well as tour the school’s single-stream recycling facility to make the process easier.
In his role as director of sustainability, Chris is tasked with tending to the community garden, leading the Environmental Club, and raising sustainability awareness on campus. Chris looks forward to working with students, faculty, and staff this year at Avon to inspire a culture of environmental stewardship in all facets of life on campus.