Industrial engineering student named 2012 Udall Scholar

Casey Fangmann’s long-standing passion for environmental responsibility has guided him through much of his college career. That passion inspired him to develop a recycling program on campus and to major in industrial engineering with a focus on sustainability. It also helped him become a 2012 Udall Scholar.

Casey Fangmann
Casey Fangmann. Photo by Jim Heemstra

The Udall Scholar program, established by the U.S. Congress in 1992, awards scholarships to undergraduate students committed to careers related to the environment or Native American issues. Fangmann was among 80 students from across the country to receive a $5,000 award.

“I am extremely honored to receive such a prestigious national award,” he said. “It recognizes the amount of time and energy I have devoted to something I want to do for a living, and it helps confirm that what I am doing is making a real difference and that I can truly make a career out of it.”

While he has always known he wanted to explore sustainable processes, Fangmann spent some time determining the best major to support his interests. The Cedar Rapids native initially enrolled in computer engineering and later switched to electrical engineering before finally deciding industrial engineering was the right fit for his career goals.

He says concepts in industrial engineering, such as statistical analysis of processes, will prove useful in the future. “I want to help organizations in industrial settings become more environmentally responsible and sustainable,” he said. “We need to begin shifting the culture of energy consumption among industry employees and start fostering a culture that strongly considers energy in the manufacturing process.”

Fangmann is no stranger to making big changes in organizations. As a leader in the GreenHouse Group on campus, he spearheaded an effort to bring recycling to Iowa State’s residence halls. The idea originally came to him after seeing large amounts of corrugated cardboard continually being thrown into dumpsters, a wasteful concept to someone from a town where recycling is an essential part of waste removal.

He started investigating why no recycling program existed on campus and discovered that the Resource Recovery Plant in Ames burns trash to create energy. “When I learned that 25 percent of trash doesn’t get burned and is still sent to the landfill, I decided to start a recycling program for my community in Martin Hall,” Fangmann said.

After managing the program during the fall semester, he was asked to help lead a Department of Residence (DoR) team trying to bring recycling to all students living on campus. Throughout the spring semester, the team developed the process and collected statistics necessary to prove the program could be successful.

The group ran a successful trial program during the last six weeks of the semester, leading the DoR to fund an official recycling program, purchase recycling containers, and establish a transportation contract with Waste Management to take the recycling. The program was implemented across all DoR living areas the following fall.

Surprised by the immediate accomplishments of the program, Fangmann says most initiatives of this size take years of research and testing before being widely adopted. “I am proud our university has made such a strong commitment to the Live Green! Initiative and has empowered students to pursue sustainability projects and research,” he said.

Fangmann says the incineration plant seems to be an adequate option for the community of Ames, but establishing recycling habits is necessary to help students learn to be more globally responsible, teaching lessons they can take with them after graduating from Iowa State.

Fangmann accepting an award for the GreenHouse Group.
Fangmann accepting an award for the GreenHouse Group. Photo by Rashah McChesney.

With an effective recycling program up and running, the GreenHouse Group is bringing awareness to other areas of sustainability such as energy, composting, and water consumption. When he’s not occupied with these activities, Fangmann gets involved in various sustainability conferences, even serving on behalf of Iowa State at several events.

He’s a past president of the Green Umbrella, a student organization with liaisons from sustainability groups and departments on campus, that helps coordinate and promote events on campus and in Ames. Additionally, he is a community advisor in DoR, building a community of students who embrace sustainability and collectively get involved on campus.

As a Udall Scholar, Fangmann will attend a conference in August in Tucson, Arizona, with the other winners. The learning and networking event will connect students with similar interests from across the nation.

He will also add a sustainability minor to his course plans; something he says wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship.

After graduating in spring 2013, Fangmann will head to Rockwell Collins, assisting the organization’s Global Sustainability Team to reduce the impact of energy on domestic and international facilities.

“I’ve built an amazing network of people at Iowa State who share my passion for sustainability,” he said. “It’s been great taking the traditional engineering knowledge and skills we learn in class and applying them in new, unique ways to sustainability projects. I look forward to continuing that at Rockwell Collins.”