Ryan Todd builds ‘culture of sustainability’ at Sac State

Sacramento State Sustainability Manager and alum Ryan Todd, left , works with environmental studies student Nicolette Garces at the University’s compost facility, which functions as a “living lab” for students from a variety of disciplines. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Ryan Todd graduated from Sacramento State in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies and a resolve to do his part to help the planet. Now, he’s back at the University doing exactly that, leading the team responsible for keeping Sac State one of the most sustainable campuses in the world.

Todd recently was profiled by the California State University as part of a series focusing on students, faculty, and alumni who are proving the transformative impact of a CSU education. He talked about how he became a student at Sac State, getting involved in sustainability issues, and some of the projects he is working on as the University’s sustainability manager.

Sacramento State’s roots as an environmentally friendly university run deep – literally. The campus is home to more than 3,500 trees and has been designated a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation five years in a row. Sac State was one of just 21 campuses and the only CSU to make The Princeton Review’s 2017 Green College Honor Roll, and the Closed Loop program – through which green waste such as leaves and lawn clippings is turned into compost used across campus as well as clean natural gas for the University’s shuttles – received a Best Practice Award at last year’s CSU Facilities Management Conference.

Todd embraces the concept of the “campus as a living lab,” involving students, faculty, and other parts of the University whenever possible in sustainability initiatives. The sustainability office has a new solar-powered golf cart, for example, thanks to engineering students who designed it using leftover solar panels. The Closed Loop program is another example: Students are dispatched to collect food waste, and the compost generated is used by groups across campus including Capital Public Radio, Associated Students Inc. (ASI) and the ASI Children’s Center.

“Everything we do, we do in collaboration with different groups,” Todd said.

Some of the projects Todd and his team – Energy & Utilities Analyst and Sac State alum Nathaniel Martin, Sustainability Analyst Kristina Cullen, and Recycling & Sustainability Coordinator and alum Joey Martinez – are working on include:

  • Replacing standard water faucets with infrared, motion-sensor faucets that save water, as well as replacing showerheads at Yosemite Hall, a project funded by a grant from the state Department of Water Resources
  • Partnering with local elementary schools to bring students onto campus to learn about sustainability issues and expose them to college
  • Retrofitting lighting inside Mendocino Hall to feature “daylight harvesting” technology, which automatically dims indoor lights depending on the amount of natural light coming into a room
  • Facilitating competition between residence halls to see which can conserve the most energy
  • Developing the campus’ first greenhouse gas emissions report following President Robert S. Nelsen’s pledge to reduce such emissions at Sac State and achieve carbon neutrality

The University’s new “Science II” building, which breaks ground this summer, is expected to be certified LEED Gold, becoming the third building on campus to earn a LEED designation (the other two are The WELL and American River Commons).

“What we’re doing is trying to create a culture of sustainability,” Todd said. “When you do that, it makes being environmentally responsible happen naturally. It sets the expectation that this is just how we do things at Sac State.”

To learn more about sustainability initiatives on campus, visit the Sac State Sustainability homepage at csus.edu/aba/sustainability/

Jose Avina is making the world a better place, one spin class at a time

Jose Avina ’13 (Communication Studies) was excited when he had the opportunity last year to speak with a small business advisor about his plan to open a gym. But he got an early reality check when the meeting, which was supposed to last two hours, was over after just 20 minutes.

“He said that there are too many gyms out there, it’s a saturated industry, and that I needed to find something that would give us a niche, something that would make us different,” says Avina, who left discouraged. Then he remembered something from his time at Sac State: The WELL featured a handful of “eco” cycles – exercise bikes that generate power during use and return that electricity to the grid.

The 16 “eco-cycles” in the spin room at Sacramento Eco Fitness pump enough electricity back into the power grid to nearly eliminate the gym’s monthly electrical bill.

Avina, a lifelong environmentalist, had his niche. In December he opened Sacramento Eco Fitness, which he says was just the second gym in the world to feature exclusively “eco” aerobic equipment. All 16 cycles in the facility’s spin room generate enough electricity to reduce Avina’s monthly bill from $680 to just $38. Soon, he’ll add an “eco-treadmill” to the mix.

The idea seems to have resonated. The gym already boasts a substantial social media following and 38 members, many of whom Avina says canceled less expensive memberships at other gyms to be part of a facility on the cutting edge of the industry.

“They like the fact that we’re giving back to the environment and the community,” he says.

Avina came to Sacramento State initially to play soccer alongside his brother and to study communications and marketing. He went into the Marine Corps following graduation, but when he finished officer training, he had difficulty finding a job after so much time away. He eventually decided to pursue his passion and open his own business.

That’s when his time at Sac State paid off. He put out a call to his former fraternity brothers for help, and eventually seven of them – six of whom are still students – offered their photography, business, media and other skills. He also became connected with the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which set him up with a free work space and helped him refine his business plan. His classes came in handy as well. Though he didn’t wind up in marketing, he and his team were able to effectively leverage social media platforms and build a strong following. The content was so effective that many of Avina’s followers thought he already had a gym – and that the one he opened in December was his second location.

“I had a great experience at Sac State,” Avina says. “I loved the campus, I loved the fact that it was in line with my environmentalist side, with the trees and everything, but I think the most important thing I pulled away from there was the network. When I came back and had this crazy idea for a new concept, they believed in it, went along with my idea and helped me out.”

In addition to being eco-friendly, Avina also works to make sure his gym gives back to the community. He hosts free monthly boot-camp training sessions, during which he collects donations for various charities.

He has big ideas on the sustainability end as well. He’ll travel to Italy soon to check out a floor that can harness kinetic energy and see if it can be used in the fitness industry, for example by generating power when someone drops his or her weights. And while he is in rented space right now, he hopes eventually to build a gym from the ground up – harnessing the latest technology in green energy and water collection, of course. He cites Tesla CEO Elon Musk as inspiration, someone with “a crazy idea” who never gave up.

“I’m an avid outdoorsman and I understand that the role we play as human beings on this planet is key to preserving what we have left,” Avina says. “We’re reducing our carbon footprint. Can’t change everyone’s mindset, but at least for our members, we’re doing our part to reduce the carbon footprint, and that could go a long way in the long run.”

Sac State alum’s new nonprofit focused on fostering community optimism

Ishmael Pruitt ’15 (Criminal Justice) was in high school when one of his acquaintances went to prison for attempted murder, something he still thinks about today.

“I always wondered, what could I have done to help him, (to) give him some advice or something,” he says. “We would be playing basketball at the park years before, and the next thing you know he slowly transitioned. I saw the transition, but as a teenager I didn’t think nothing of it.”

Now a Sacramento State graduate, Pruitt is determined not to let other young people fall through the cracks. He is the co-founder of Project Optimism, a new nonprofit dedicated to enacting social change by equipping community members with a positive mindset and a belief that they can contribute to society. The organization’s programs include connecting at-risk youth with college students who can serve as mentors and sponsoring events to raise money or awareness for a variety of charities or causes.

The road from concerned teen to nonprofit founder, however, was anything but direct. Pruitt joined the Vacaville Police Department’s cadet program in high school, but didn’t enjoy it. He turned his eye toward being a probation officer, which led him to Sac State’s Criminal Justice program. That exposed him to research about how education was crucial to keeping young black men out of the criminal justice system. He tried his hand at teaching, but learned that wasn’t for him either. Then he thought about how he spent his time at Sac State.

“I reflected on all of my college experience, and it involved student development in higher education,” Pruitt says, listing off jobs he held including residential advisor, tutor and peer advisor. “They all had to do with developing college students. Sac State definitely exposed me to that, and now I’m in the process of transitioning to get a master’s degree in higher education.”

For years, Pruitt had been mulling over many of the ideas that eventually became Project Optimism, but the organization didn’t get off the ground until last year when he connected with a partner, Armoni Easley, who shared his passion and dedication – as well as an attorney who agreed to help them set up the nonprofit pro bono. Project Optimism was officially incorporated as a nonprofit in January.

The organization currently has two main initiatives. The Sankofa Project – named after a Twi word that means “go back and get it” – encourages college students to serve as mentors for at-risk youths. Pruitt uses social media to facilitate connections, and there are currently about 29 mentor-mentee pairs. The other project, PI Events for a Cause (PI stands for Positive Images), raises money for various charitable efforts such as cancer research or homelessness awareness.

He and his partner also hope to launch a program that helps provide resources for the homeless, as well as expand the Sankofa Project to include connecting college faculty who are interested in mentoring college-age students. Pruitt plans to attend graduate school in Southern California, giving the organization bases of operation in two parts of the state.

Pruitt credits his parents – both of whom earned college degrees late in life – with helping him become the person he is. His mother, he says, has maintained a positive outlook on life despite hardships, while his father emphasized discipline and dedication. And he also thinks about those individuals farther back in history who blazed the trail for him and inspire him to continue paying it forward for the next generation.

“Someone down the road paved the way for me to go to Sac State and get the experience I had,” he said, “Whether it was the first black student at Sacramento State, the first African American faculty member, someone did it, so it’s our responsibility to continue to build on the legacy and help someone else get to where they want to be.”

To learn more about Project Optimism or get involved, visit facebook.com/ProjectOpimtism.