NAU Student Runs Green Events with Rock The Bike’s Most Compact Bike Powered Sound System

A Look Inside Arizona’s 1st Bike Powered Concert organized by the students of NAU

NAU student Joanna Wheaton attended Rock the Bike’s pedal-powered concert at UCLA’s Ecochella in 2014, and she felt inspired by the potential for something like this at her school. Joanna is a part of her campus’ student environmental group — the Green Jacks — their goal is to reduce NAU’s environmental impact through student-organized, educational events. So this past year, Joanna led the way for her school to purchase one of Rock the Bike’s newest bike-powered packages. For Earth Jam 2019, NAU purchased a 10-bike system from us that we named “Party in a Box” because it stores so compactly when not in use, but is capable of powering  large sound systems for concerts. Students are able to demonstrate their resourcefulness by gathering bikes from their community, they just don’t have to take on the full responsibility of building their own system from scratch, something that is not easy to get right on your first try.  

Rock the Bike founder Paul Freedman below interviews Joanna Wheaton about what lead her to be environmental leader at her University. 

Paul: What year are you in at school? If you were involved in the first UCLA Ecochella, then you must be a grad student.

Joanna: I am actually pursuing a post-bac right now! So I guess that makes me a 6th-year undergrad, though I’m still taking graduate level courses as well. At UCLA I majored in Political Science with minors in Environmental Systems & Society and Urban & Regional Planning; now I’m getting a BS in Mathematics with minors in Computer Science, Economics, and GIS.

Paul: How did you get involved with Green Jacks? What are some of the other outlets for your environmentalism?

JoannaI participated in  Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) throughout my undergraduate experience and, during my senior year, I led the lecture series as well as an action research team. It was really rewarding to be welcomed into the sustainability family at UCLA…. It was also very empowering to see our efforts result in tangible changes to campus policies and programming.

As I learned more about climate change, I became more motivated to play a role in sustainability efforts. In retrospect, we were also very fortunate to have top-down support for sustainability initiatives at pretty much every level. Although students at NAU as well as the City of Flagstaff and the greater Flagstaff community tend to really value sustainability, students do not have as many opportunities to shape campus policy. Whereas at UCLA student groups and university stakeholders worked together to draft and implement sustainability action plans, NAU administrators seem unmotivated to implement NAU’s Climate Action Plan and have cut back funding and resources for the Office of Sustainability to the extent that the Office’s manager recently resigned in frustration.

PaulWhat do you consider the biggest opportunities for a group like Green Jacks to create a culture of sustainability within NAU? Where are the biggest chances of improvement that you see on campus?

Joanna: I would say that there is a pretty vibrant culture of sustainability at NAU. It is most apparent in the University’s academic offerings (there is even a PhD in Sustainability), the research emphases of faculty, and the interests of students. However, as I mentioned earlier, this enthusiasm is not reflected by the priorities of the administration, which has placed a greater emphasis on other goals like expanding NAU Athletics. Despite these institutional limitations, I would identify student-run events as the area in which there is the greatest potential for further fostering a culture of sustainability at NAU.

Paul: Having been to Ecochella, can you speak to the impacts that it has had at UCLA or on you?

Joanna: Of all the events that I’ve hosted or in which I’ve participated, bike-powered music festivals are by far the most effective at bringing new faces to sustainability events. This is partially a function of the fact that they are inherently fun but is also because it is advantageous to organize groups of cyclists in advance in order to ensure a steady supply of power. This provides a great opportunity to reach out to groups that may not otherwise be aware of or interested in sustainability events, such as athletic organizations, career-related organizations, sororities and fraternities, student clubs, etc. Using bike-power also makes energy use and generation more tangible, which may encourage students to consider their energy use from a different perspective.

Before organizing Ecochella, creating an event that harnessed bike power had never occurred to me. But the event generated such excitement from the moment it was introduced (in terms of students wanting to help with the organization as well as wanting to participate by pedaling or performing) that its potential to appeal to a diverse range of students was immediately apparent. Ecochella was easily a major highlight of my undergrad experience at UCLA.


Thank you Joanna for your leadership and for taking time to talk with us at Rock the Bike!! 


Rock the Bike found, Paul Freedman wanted to highlight Joanna’s story because its inspiring to see young leaders pave the way for bringing changes to how events are organized and how decisions about sustainability at campuses are made, and we hope to encourage and inspire more students like her to take advantage of all the sustainable opportunities at their fingertips.

Joanna, in addition to her full class load, has organized a way for NAU to become the first to produce Pedal Powered shows in AZ and wrote an inspiring and astute grant proposal for her school to own its very own bike power sound system. 

Here are some inspiring excerpts from Joanna’s proposal explaining her visions for NAU’s sustainable future:

“The goal of our project is to obtain a “fleet” of bicycle power generators to use at Green Jacks’ Earth Jam in April 2019, as well as at relevant future events. With 10 bicycle generator stands, a pedal power utility box, and a pedalometer, it will be possible to generate enough energy to power the musical performances at annual Earth Jam events. With this basic setup, it will be possible to power a variety of existing student events with bicycles, such as Earth Jam and the Better World Film Series. It will also be possible to utilize the bike generators as stand-alone features powering, for example, blenders, device chargers, ice cream makers, a single PA speaker, and any number of other small electrical devices. Incorporating bike-power into educational and outreach efforts in this way would provide a fun, interactive, healthy, and emissions-free way for the community to engage with sustainability.”

One very compelling quality of the new “Party in a Box” pedal-power package from Rock the Bike is that the compact size of this bike-powered system made it a very beneficial choice, reducing storage space requirements. “All of the equipment would fit in a small closet space,” which was one of the stated highlights of the system used for Joanna’s event. 

We love seeing super inspired organizers like Joanna who end up creating fun events and bringing people together to make the greatest possible impact. Her efforts to secure funding for NAU to own its own bike-powered sound system will live on past this year’s Earth Day events and will be used in future Green Jack’s events as well as for several bike related or science events in Flagstaff. She even comments that she may use this system in the future to produce off-the-grid Music Festivals in Flagstaff much like the Bay Area based Bicycle Music Festival produced for many years by the founder of Rock the Bike. Super cool!! 

Photos from Ecochella at UCLA