Rollins’ First Student Lead Sustainability Coordinator

By land, air, and water, student Matt Bengston ’15 is helping to create a greener Rollins.

Whether riding a bike to save fuel, walking a footpath for health, viewing campus vegetation through a drone-mounted camera, or searching Lake Virginia, Matt Bengtson ’15 seeks ways to promote a more eco-friendly Rollins.

It’s obvious that this Concord, New Hampshire, student-athlete has wide-ranging environmental interests that keep him busy. You might find him repairing bicycles for the College’s free borrow-a-bike program, filming aerial views of the College’s landscape, or using a metal detector to find recyclable cellphones at the bottom of Lake Virginia. (There’s more down there than you’d think.)

“We want to make the Rollins campus more walkable and more bikeable,” says Bengtson, who is the first student to be named lead sustainability coordinator for Rollins’ Sustainability Program.

He’s also working to bring an aerobic biodigestion apparatus to the cafeteria—a project that stemmed from a research paper in which he reported that Rollins students throw away about 600 pounds of food scraps a day. The project has gotten the attention of campus administrators and managers from Sodexo, the company that runs the College’s dining services. “Everybody seems positive,” Bengtson says of the system.

By providing a running tally of fuel savings and prevented methane emissions, the hope is that the system, known as ORCA, will encourage students’ interest in the environment. ORCA uses safe bacteria to quickly break down foodstuffs into a watery fluid rather than hauling it to the landfill where it decays.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Bengtson is planning to visit Portland, Oregon, to learn about the city’s development patterns and also travel to the Amazon basin to study its sustainability traditions.

Student, athlete, tutor, entrepreneur

Bengtson came to Rollins wanting to become a marine biologist, but he found himself interested in broader sustainability issues and switched to environmental studies.

Bengtson had been a successful snow ski jumper at his New Hampshire high school, so he asked if he could assist with the Rollins water-ski team. Now a member, he contributed to the team’s recent fourth-place finish in the National Collegiate Water Ski Association tournament. (Bengtson has been jumping about 120 feet in practice and earned an invitation to an all-star competition.)

He also finds time to be an assistant director at Strong Hall and a tutor at both the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and TJ’s Tutoring and Writing Consulting in Olin Library, where he was recently named Tutor of the Year.

In his spare time, Bengtson found time to start a small electronics repair business. “Last summer, I decided to buy some broken iPhones on eBay and learn to fix them. I started with YouTube videos and taught myself,” he says.

When he went wading into Lake Virginia to find something a friend had dropped off the dock, he found a way to merge his business instincts with his ideas of social entrepreneurship. While searching the shallow area, he literally stepped on a submerged cellphone and wondered what else might be there. So he bought a used underwater metal detector and turned up 10 cellphones in short order. He repaired several, sold some, and recycled the rest.

Rollins Bicycle Program

Bengtson plays a vital role in the Rollins Bicycle Library Program, which started in 2009 and has become one of the College’s best-known sustainability initiatives.

He is one of a handful of students who maintain the program’s 26 bikes. Students, faculty, and staff can borrow the bikes at no charge for three days at a time. Operated out of Olin Library, the program is on pace to make about 1,000 bicycle loans during 2014, says Ann Francis ’01, program coordinator for environmental studies and the Sustainability Program.

Bengtson and others want to expand the program to 50 bicycles, as suggested in the campus master plan, and develop a strategy to house them in a central location, making access easier. “We hope more people will think that they don’t have to use a car to just go to the other side of campus,” Bengtson says.

More Changes on the Horizon

The athlete-entrepreneur still isn’t sure what route he’ll take after graduation. Recent work with aerial cameras reawakened a desire to become a commercial or military pilot.

Bengtson learned about aerial photography from Tom Hirschmann ’07 ’11MBA, who operates FlyBy in Winter Park. Now Bengtson is considering offering the services of his own small, battery-powered aerial camera to film college campuses in New Hampshire this summer. He hopes to show a quieter, greener, cheaper alternative to helicopter flights. If that leads to a new and profitable pathway, he’s open to seeing where it goes.

But then again, what he views from the air also makes him consider urban planning as a career. That’s what he loves about the liberal arts program at Rollins.

As Bengtson explains, “I’m trying to make the most of my college experience to get my feet wet in a lot of areas.”