Commitment to sustainability drives UCCS student leader

Nothing demands a solution like a broken toilet.

That’s what Mae Rohrbach learned in the UCCS dorms in the fall of 2013.

“We had to flush it multiple times until we got it fixed. I thought: There is so much water being wasted,” says Mae, now a senior studying geography and environmental studies.

Most students would fix it and forget it. But Mae and a couple classmates from her “Sustainable Me” environmental studies course knew this problem deserved a longer look.

“We thought about the toilets,” she recalls. A lot.

Specifically that about 200 of them used 3.5 gallons per flush. Efficient toilets use just 1.8 gallons, reducing costs and water usage. So Mae and her classmates worked with campus officials and sought funding to install more efficient toilets. By May, she and volunteers replaced the old commodes and smashed them into recycled materials for campus pavement.

“It’s come full circle,” Mae says of the Toilet Retrofit Project, which has saved UCCS about $15,000 in water costs.

She enrolled at UCCS partially because of its commitment to sustainability (the campus’ beauty didn’t hurt either: ”I love the views,” she says). During her campus tour, she happily spotted the university’s recycling and composting efforts, and she wanted to get involved. Mae spoke to campus sustainability leaders about volunteering and has spearheaded two major sustainability projects as a student at UCCS— the Toilet Retrofit Project and the installation of a dining hall vending machine called OZZI that lowers meal costs for students who choose reusable food containers. Mae wants to tackle one more project before graduating and heading to the Peace Corps: bringing non-potable recycled “grey” water to campus to save resources.

Mae knows this means major logistical hurdles, but she has put real-world skills—how to plan, coordinate with leaders and build a case for her ideas—into action. UCCS has taught her to view problems as opportunities to help: “This is something that could be changed for the better. What can I do about it?”

“Service is a core part of who I am,” she says. “My perspectives may change, but service will not. That will always be a part of me. You only have so much time on this planet, and what I want to do with that time is serve others.”