Tom Hutton, UCCS, (719) 255-3439, (719) 351-6519 [email protected]

University of Colorado Colorado Springs graduates will forego traditional black robes for the university’s 37th Spring Commencement Ceremonies.

Instead, each of the 842 students participating in festivities, as well as the faculty and administrators who make the event official, will wear plastic bottles, specifically, 13 polyethylene terephthalate bottles commonly used for soda, water or juice. Commencement ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. May 20 at the Colorado Springs World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd.

The plastic bottles were recycled and made into commencement regalia that look just like those made of cotton, wool, or blends of traditional materials used in commencement regalia for hundreds of years.

The big difference?

“These gowns are good for the earth,” Leanna Slyman, sales manager, UCCS Bookstore said.

This is the first spring commencement where the recycled gowns will be used. Students earning bachelor’s degrees purchased their caps and gowns for $39.95 and will have the option of keeping them or, at the end of the ceremony, recycling them so they might become another plastic container or, conceivably, another commencement gown.

“We hope the graduates will save their gowns and wear them again – maybe for another degree or to give to another member of the family,” Slyman said. “But, if after two hours of wearing them, they put them in the recycle bin, that’s OK – they still won’t make their way into the landfill.”

The switch to recycled commencement gowns is part of a UCCS commitment to sustainability and reducing campus emissions by 50 percent by 2030. In recent years, UCCS constructed three buildings that meet stringent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, retrofitted heating and cooling systems, replaced plumbing fixtures, installed efficient lights and instituted campus-wide recycling. The recycled commencement gowns were a logical next step, according to Linda Kogan, director, Office of Sustainability. Kogan and several student assistants will be available Friday to help students recycle the gowns or to answer questions about how to reduce individual carbon footprint.

An estimated 1,193 students graduated from UCCS for the spring 2011 semester. About 842 are expected to participate in the ceremony with 682 earning bachelor’s degrees, 141 earning master’s degrees and 19 earning doctoral degrees, including 14 Doctorate of Nursing Practice degrees awarded to students from the Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

At the ceremony, 682 students will receive bachelor’s degrees, 141 will receive master’s degrees and 19 will receive doctoral degrees. Of the doctoral degree recipients, 14 will be granted the Doctorate of Nursing Practice. This doctoral degree prepares nurses to provide high-quality primary health care, often for specific at-risk populations and in rural areas, and for teaching the next generation of professional nurses. Whether these graduates move into teaching or primary health care, both are vital to solving the shortage of nurses in Colorado and helping the U.S. reform its health care system, according to Nancy Smith, dean, Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

UCCS has the fourth largest enrollment of graduate (master’s and doctoral degree-seeking) students in Colorado.

Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak will provide the commencement address and noted the importance of almost 1,200 new graduates to the regional workforce.

“As they move from seats in the classroom to positions as teachers, accountants, nurses, engineers, and many other positions in both the public and private sectors, these graduates represent the workforce, and the future, of southern Colorado,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

UCCS, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The University offers 36 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s, and five doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 9,000 students annually.