Invasion of Privacy: Former art department chair spearheading sustainability movement

Recently appointed Director of Sustainability Dan DeZarn has been integrating his personal passions and interests in his work on campus for 12 years. Prior to coming to Geneseo, DeZarn received his undergraduate degree in studio art at Northern Kentucky University, and then went on to get his MFA in sculpture at the University of Tennessee.

“When you get a degree in terminal studio arts, you start to wonder how you are going to make some money,” DeZarn said. “The easiest way to make money with a degree like that is to teach college.” After an extensive job search, DeZarn was offered a position at Geneseo.

“I had never heard of Geneseo, I knew nothing about the Finger Lakes and I knew nothing about this region,” DeZarn said.

DeZarn taught sculpture for almost 11 years and served as the chair of the studio art department for three years until its closure this past spring due to budget cuts. “Happily, the timing of the closing coincided with the school’s need for a full-time sustainability person,” he said.

DeZarn had long been involved with sustainability in both his artwork and his manner of living. He started “the Homestead Project” in 2007 with his then girlfriend-now wife. After purchasing a plot of land, the duo manually constructed all of the structures and systems that would be necessary for them to live on it. “In terms of considering sustainability on a personal level and then on a residential level, this catapulted me into this position where I’m now focusing on it much more on an institutional level,” he said.

DeZarn’s work at Geneseo now revolves around the Office of Sustainability, which was founded in fall 2014. The position of Director of Sustainability combines DeZarn’s past experience in dealing with faculty and students with the grounds and facility background of sustainability officer Bill McDevitt.

The Office of Sustainability also consists of two paid interns and a group of interns working for class credit. “That is what I’m most excited about,” DeZarn said. “We have students who come that are interested in working on sustainability-related efforts.”

The office then attempts to set these students up in jobs or internships that deal with sustainability in whatever their major is. “We are working with people in biology, psychology, English, philosophy and geography,” DeZarn said. The office is also working on uniting all faculty, staff, community organizations and clubs that are interested in working on sustainability in a learning community.

DeZarn emphasized that his interaction with students is one of the most enjoyable aspects of his career. “What I miss most about my old job is getting to deal with students in a teaching capacity,” he said. DeZarn currently fulfills this need by getting to work with students that are interested in sustainability.

In his free time, DeZarn noted that, as the father of a 4-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, he loves to spend time with his family. “I also spend a lot of time outside,” he said. “One of the reasons that we started our homestead project was because we like to be outside in the woods.” DeZarn is also very passionate about locally-grown food. “It just tends to taste better, it makes you feel nicer and it is also more sustainable,” he said.