Going Green at The Valley

Cooper Gerus works on his Green Roof Initiative

At Lebanon Valley College, Cooper Gerus ’17 is taking his passion for sustainability and putting it into practice through his Green Roof Initiative. Gerus conceived and presented this idea, which ultimately received a grant from LVC’s inaugural Student Innovation Fund during the 2015–16 academic year. 

The goal of the Student Innovation Fund is to provide selected students with grants to complete campus projects ranging from sustainability to student programming and the arts. Some projects were chosen because of their long-term effect on the campus, and their ability to provide students the chance to initiate and lead projects. 

Gerus was inspired by his work on a small farm last summer, and he has always enjoyed growing plants and learning about ecology. 

“I just started thinking about ways that LVC could be more sustainable and I wanted to do sort of a service project. I didn't know what my goals were from the start, but it's kind of taken its own form as I've moved along. I just wanted to bring people on board with living sustainably because I feel like a lot of people don't know about these sort of practices.” 

So what is a green roof anyway? 

This concept began in cities, especially in Europe, as a way of turning unused rooftops into green spaces. The roof is partially or completely covered with vegetation that can be grown and then used or enjoyed. After consideration, Gerus received permission to install LVC’s first green roof, with a composter included in the design, on the balcony of the Rosemary Yuhas Commons. He chose this spot so that the Green Roof was accessible for all on campus to enjoy.

As his idea evolved, Gerus suddenly found himself presenting it to Dr. Lewis E. Thayne, LVC president, and the Dean for approval. Next, he connected with Harold “Chip” Schwalm, director of buildings maintenance, and Dr. Erica Unger, assistant professor of biology, to begin getting approval and help carrying out his plan. Yet, what may be surprising is that this project is not related to Gerus’ degree background. 

Gerus is a politics major, with minors in English and psychology. During the winter, he was able to work closely with Dr. Unger to learn about the different plants and the biological component of the Green Roof. While the project does not directly fall within his classroom studies, it has enabled Gerus to build a unique relationship with LVC faculty and staff. He also is now considering post-graduate pursuits in environmental studies. 

The project has already brought together other student volunteers with members of facilities, the Biology Department, and other administrators. All the project materials were either salvaged or donated from local businesses.

“I kept thinking though 'What can I do that is high impact on a small scale that can get people involved?'” Gerus said. “The Green Roof is a good way to do that because you need people to be on board to make it work.” 

Plants such as lettuce, various herbs, onions, and much more are currently growing on the roof. Then, in order to complete the cycle of sustainability, Metz Culinary will use the crops in LVC’s dining hall. This project, started by a student and run by students, will ultimately benefit other students in many practical ways.  

“When I was going into this I didn’t know what to expect. However, I have been surprised on different levels, including by the people—like Dr. Unger—who helped me make this a success,” added Gerus. “It’s been cool to draw on people’s strengths and to bring people together to work for something like this.”

All are welcome to view the Green Roof, and even sit beside the plants on the patio furniture set and enjoy the view. Gerus is also looking for more volunteers who can help with watering, harvesting, and the general caretaking duties, to ensure that the Green Roof lasts for future LVC students. Ultimately, he hopes his initial project will inspire students to work on making their own impact on campus by learning and living a sustainable lifestyle. 

“I'm big on the environment and I think making an impact in this way, something that can last and be taught to people, is a great place to start,” noted Gerus. “The more people you reach, the more likely they’ll be to recycle or have a garden themselves, because it’s easy. “I’ve always loved working in gardens. This is just the kind of stuff I wanted to do.”