Professor and student look to estimate Wichita State carbon footprint


Wren Johnson

A student and associate professor at Wichita State are working together to gather data on carbon emissions produced by the university.

Stewart McClelland came to Wichita State with an interest in green energy. When he began his education as a mechanical engineering student, he began doing research under associate mechanical engineering professor Ikram Ahmed as part of the honors First Year Research Experience (FYRE).

In continuation of a 2019 study, Ahmed and McClelland sent out a survey in hopes of learning more about carbon dioxide emissions at the university. The questionnaire asks participants to answer questions about their commuting habits.

“If people need to drive long distances to come to this campus, then that means they’re emitting a lot of carbon, especially if they’re driving a car fueled by fossil fuels,” Ahmed said. “If transportation comes out (of the survey) to be a major source of emissions, we (the university) may want to start looking into how to improve our commuting experience here.” 

Large emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, have contributed to climate change. Ahmed said that the connection between energy usage and global warming sparked his interest in sustainability. 

“I have been teaching our students here about thermodynamics … the solid science of heat,” Ahmed said. “We teach these things because mechanical engineers are the ones that design power plants, that run power plants and improve power and design.”

Ahmed said he bikes to campus in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

“I know my biking to campus is not going to make a dent in anything we do here,” he said. “But before I can encourage the whole campus to start biking, I gotta start.”

Ahmed and McClelland consider the survey and other sustainability-motivated research to be a passion project of theirs. Ahmed said it is important to teach students to consider the consequences their actions have on the environment.

“Eventually, our students go out in the world and do things and their actions and their work will have effects on the larger world outside of the campus,” Ahmed said. “We need to make sure our students are aware of the consequences of their possible professional work.”

Ahmed said a group of faculty and staff are also working on ways to increase awareness and improve sustainability efforts. He hopes that the university will hire a sustainability officer as well.

“We as faculty cannot really devote enough time and attention to this problem,” he said. “It’s a campus-wide issue, and it needs to be coordinated by someone who has enough of a mandate that comes from the president’s office.”

McClelland said the survey has received about 300 responses so far. The survey doesn’t have a specific close date. Individuals who commute to Wichita State can fill it out here.

Additional research

In addition to the survey, McClelland has researched other aspects of the university through FYRE, like electricity and natural gas usage at the university.

“My primary responsibility this semester has been to catalog the electricity usage and natural gas usage of campus, which we access through the electricity and natural gas bills,” McClelland said

McClelland said there are about 60 electricity and 20 natural gas meters on campus to look into. Some of the bills identify the building their usage is coming from, but others don’t, which makes the project more difficult, according to McClelland.

McClelland hopes to make electricity and natural gas data more public at the university.

“I’m sure that we can put out a more average general number of our electricity usage and emissions, but at the same time, that may not be something that the university wants to put out,” McClelland said. “You don’t want to be a leader in innovation and lagging behind on your carbon emissions.”

Regardless, McClelland said he has felt supported by the university in his research efforts.

“I’d say there’s a lot of support,” he said. “I have not met a single person that has been like, ‘Oh, that’s a bad project. You’re wasting your time.’”

McClelland said he would like to have a few people join him on his project to help generate different ideas and possible solutions. Those interested in helping can contact him at [email protected].