Santa Clara University

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Ralph W. Schardt

Executive Director, Michael Lee Environmental Foundation, San Jose

Ralph Schardt specializes in connections.

As executive director of the Michael Lee Environmental Foundation, based in San Jose, his work involves bringing together scientists, students, technicians, and average people for efforts in environmental education, conservation, technology advancement, and environmental justice.

So he has to look at the big picture a lot.

Ask him about the hybrid car he drives, for example, and you'll hear about the wider circle of petroleum dependency: "I wanted to avoid supporting foreign oil imports. But it's such a complex equation. There's so much more to worry about: municipal needs and the packaging of goods, all the plastics that go into cell phones, online ordering systems. And there's tons of plastic stuff in my car. If you had a magic wand and could pass it over every passenger car to get it off the road, we'd still need to import 30 percent of our oil."

Though our global environmental problems loom large, Schardt and his foundation focus on solutions. That's why they support Santa Clara's bid in the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, an international competition to design a self-sufficient solar house held every other year. The foundation supported SCU's 2007 team with a $30,000 check, and will support the 2009 bid with at least $20,000.

The project brings together efforts of student, staff, and faculty engineers, designers, construction specialists, environmentalists, communications experts, and anyone interested in a challenge. This year, SCU is partnering with the architecture program at the California College of the Arts, based in San Francisco.

It's exactly the kind of multidisciplinary, solution-based effort that appeals to Schardt's foundation.

"We believe in collaborative work. Trying to get as many players involved to strengthen the impact of the work is our philosophy. I like how Santa Clara goes about this," says Schardt. "The best thing is that the lessons of this experience will stay with the students when they go off and become professionals."

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