BOONE, N.C.—Zach Sprau ’11 ’17 graduated from Appalachian State University with bachelor’s degrees in music performance and psychology, a master’s degree in appropriate technology and a lifelong interest in sustainability. Today, he’s using the powers of sun and soul to serve marginalized people in the United States and developing nations.
“In the professional world, you can make a ton of money if you want,” Sprau said. “I believe there are bigger things to be living for. We have an opportunity to help others with the resources we have.”
Sprau — an engaged and passionate alumnus — is a project manager with the United Solar Initiative (USI), a nonprofit based in Chapel Hill that facilitates solar energy solutions. USI focuses much of its work in developing nations, but also takes on some domestic projects.
In November 2017, USI installed 54 photovoltaic panels on the roof of Boone-based Hospitality House, a 24-hour homeless shelter serving seven counties. The energy created by this system of photovoltaic panels is credited to the Hospitality House and used to decrease its electric bill, Sprau said.
The project came about when Sprau was running with his friend and fellow Appalachian alumnus Jordan Duke ’13, facilities manager at the Hospitality House. Duke invited him to tour the Hospitality House and told Sprau of his idea to place photovoltaic panels on the roof.
Sprau knew the project would be expensive, he said, but he also knew USI was interested in completing a domestic project.
USI and its donors contributed about $18,000 in funds and materials to the project, which took shape during the summer of 2016, Sprau said. Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT), which has a mission to develop citizenship at Appalachian through community projects, raised $26,000, said Kate Johnson, associate director of the university’s Department of Student Engagement and Leadership and director of ACT’s cocurricular program.
Duke said more solar panels will be added to the roof once the Hospitality House’s food pantry is expanded, and that the project is a model for other organizations and communities.
“Since Hospitality House is a community-supported organization, we should reflect the values of our community,” Duke said. “Environmental sustainability ensures a healthy future for our community and clients.”
Sprau’s journey begins
Sprau grew up in Greenville. A double bass player, he credits his music studies with giving him a strong work ethic, as music majors must practice long hours daily. His psychology major was a good match for someone who likes working with other people, he said.
Sprau said he has always had strong convictions about protecting the earth, which deepened during his time at Appalachian, where he worked on campus for Outdoor Programs as a trip leader. Much of his love of the earth and belief in preserving the world also stems from his Christian faith.
“In the United States and other developed countries, many of us are living comfortable lifestyles when others are suffering,” Sprau said. “The big question is, are we going to keep living like that, or are we going to moderate our use of resources to help others?”
Sprau met his wife, Annie (Nickel) Sprau ’11, an elementary education major from Boone, while attending Appalachian. They both worked for Samaritan’s Purse after graduation and spent a year in Haiti through the organization. There, Zach Sprau saw the potential for technology to impact lives for marginalized people, he said. This led him to return to Appalachian for a master’s degree in appropriate technology, which he received in 2017.
“I think the appropriate tech master’s program is the coolest thing on campus,” he said. “It’s very practical. It’s very hands-on. The faculty are passionate about helping students and the world.”
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About the Hayes School of Music
The Hayes School of Music prepares young musicians for professional lives as performers, composers, music educators, music therapists, conductors and music industry professionals, ensuring the next generation of musical leadership for the state, region and nation. Noted for quality instruction by national and internationally recognized faculty musicians, the school offers four undergraduate degree programs and three graduate-level programs. Learn more at https://music.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more at https://faa.appstate.edu.
About graduate education at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s Cratis D. Williams School of Graduate Studies helps individuals reach the next level in their career advancement and preparedness. The school offers 70 graduate degree and certificate programs in a range of disciplines, including doctoral programs in education (Ed.D.) and psychology (Psy.D.). Classes are offered at the main campus in Boone as well as online and face-to-face at locations around northwestern North Carolina. The graduate school enrolls nearly 1,800 students. Learn more at https://graduate.appstate.edu.
About Sustainability at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The university’s holistic, three-branched approach considers sustainability economically, environmentally and equitably in relationship to the planet’s co-inhabitants. The university is an active steward of the state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources and challenges students and others think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that focus on sustainability. In addition, 100 percent of Appalachian’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course or course that includes sustainability, and all students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. Learn more at https://appstate.edu/sustainability.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.