Once a “painfully shy” student who did her best to avoid being noticed as a young girl, college senior Cheyenne Minniss has spent every Friday she could this spring protesting on the steps of Beardshear Hall at Iowa State University to advocate for clean energy.
The University is in the process of converting the remaining two of five coal-fired boilers with ones that burn natural gas instead. When the conversion is complete, all five boilers will be run on natural gas. While this shift is an improvement over coal, Minniss is advocating for the campus to make a greater push to research and invest in renewable energy options that are more sustainable in the long-term. Minniss believes that by doing so, the campus will live up to its motto, “Innovate at Iowa State.”
According to the University’s strategic plan, converting the last two boilers would reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 35% (even though natural gas is also a fossil fuel that releases greenhouse gasses during combustion). The plan was endorsed by ISU President Wendy Wintersteen to guide environmental sustainability at the university through 2025. Being carbon-neutral is a longer-term priority for the University, according to an April 2021 article about the boiler conversion in the Ames Tribune.
Minniss’ protests have been well received by the campus community, with Iowa State administrators stopping by to ask important questions about climate and clean energy options.
Minniss is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Iowa State, where she also serves as the President of Climate Reality Campus Corp. The club’s overall goal is to urge “Iowa State to commit to 100 percent clean energy and divest from fossil fuel accounts.”
The Climate Reality Campus Corp and Minniss as President wrote an op-ed column, published in the Iowa State Daily on December 2, 2021, to address their concerns, citing the variability and investment risk of natural gas prices and the human and environmental health risks of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as primary steps backward in light of alternative renewable energy options available. The letter invited Iowa Board of Regents to pause the final conversion of the
remaining two boilers, which were set to be replaced in January 2022, “to conduct a third-party analysis outlining a just transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, comparing the return on investment for renewables to that of a retrofitted cogeneration natural gas and oil system,” indicating that as far as the club knew, no such study had been conducted.
Minniss came to Iowa State because their marketing materials promoted sustainability, including a minor in wind energy, but unfortunately that minor was eliminated due to lack of interest by the time Minniss enrolled. Minniss was disappointed that the school wasn’t living up to their marketing campaign, calling the advertisement “greenwashing.”
The loss of the wind energy minor didn’t make Minniss bitter, it made her want to see Iowa State do better. The strikes conducted by Minniss each Friday this semester have been her attempts to raise her voice and challenge the University to take more substantial steps toward becoming a truly green campus.
“I came because of sustainability,” Minniss said in an article from March 31, 2022 in the Iowa State Daily. “Now that I see it is kind of lacking, I definitely want to see it be where they are advertising at.” Minniss sees value in uniting with other clubs on campus to make a difference. At the College Creek Cleanup event hosted by the Iowa State Office of Sustainability last spring, Minniss was one of 35 volunteers who came together to collect a total of 25 bags of garbage.
“We really want to do things that help our environment and do our part, and we really want to try to work with other clubs and the Office of Sustainability just so we can build more coalitions and be a united force,” Minniss told the Iowa State Daily reporter after the event.
As a major in mechanical engineering, Minniss is excited to combine her leadership skills with the know-how to physically make and implement large-scale changes that can truly make a difference in a community.
“I want to be a leader, that means walking a path that isn’t always the easiest path,” Minniss said, regarding her Friday protests. “That means blazing a new trail for people to then follow behind you, that is what I believe a leader is. To see the leadership at my school not do that is pretty discouraging because that is how I envision leadership, and they are not doing that.”