Projects in Sustainability – from the archives: 2006

by Liz Walker.   (Originally published in the 2006 Eco-Village newsletter)

* “This was my favorite, most challenging,and most valuable class.”
* “Working in groups was fabulous.Learning through doing was great.”
* “I loved the opportunity to get involved in the larger community.”
* “This was not just a class, it was a commitment and involvement that will continue 
beyond the semester. I’m now looking for jobs with a focus on sustainable development.”
-Student comments

Photo- Jim Bosjolie

Photo- Jim Bosjolie 2006

Continuing the very productive partnership between Ithaca College (IC) and EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI), EcoVillage education coordinator Elan Shapiro launched a new course, “Projects in Sustainability” in the Fall ‘05 semester. The course, which will be taught again in the Spring ‘06 semester,was funded by a four-year National Science Foundation grant received by IC and EVI. The highly successful course gave I.C. students  chance to learn about community sustainability first-hand by being engaged, as key layers, in projects that “made a difference” in local sustainable development on campus, at EVI and in the Ithaca community. Students worked in small teams with a mentor on one of the following projects:

  • Root cellar at EVI (with ecovillager Tina Nilsen-Hodges)
  • Green Building in the Ithaca area (with Ithaca Green Building Alliance chair, Brent Katzman).

Students helped promote the 2005 Green Building Open House and Solar Tour, and created “case studies” of green homes

  • Solar Power at IC and EVI (with ecovillager Greg Pitts) Students worked

with EVI and Finger Lakes Renewables to design and get permission to build a solar-powered fountain for the Chapel Pond, and to improve solar “trailers” used for education and portable power sources. The EVI solar trailer is currently providing electricity to build the EVI bus shelter.

  • Biodiversity Management on Forested IC Land (with IC professor Jason Hamilton). Students developed and implemented a management plan on South Hill that preserves endangered

plants and rare ecosystems, while allowing for college uses such as hiking and running   trails.They also helped to create a biodiversity restoration plan at IC’s Newfield Preserve that will keep local hunters happy.

  • Sustainable Landscaping on IC Campus (with IC Professor Rene Borgella and Grounds manager Roger Casterline).

The lawn surrounding the science building on campus was set aside to do experiments with low maintenance perennial landscaping that would save money and restore biodiversity.

Students learned a client-centered approach of looking at research and community engagement, called Participatory Action Research (PAR). As Elan put it, “So much of sustainability is about developing mutually beneficial relationships. This course taught students about looking at what everyone’s needs are.” For instance, in the Sustainable Landscaping project, students coordinated faculty, students, and

groundskeepers to look at everything from soil microorganisms to wildlife habitat.”This never happened before,” Elan said.”The people from Buildings and Grounds,the scientists from the building, and the students were all on fire. They laid the groundwork for a comprehensive study of how acres of land on campus could be turned into perennial plantings. It was a real success story!”

Other projects made similar breakthroughs. The root cellar project helped EVI residents to find a low-tech, high labor strategy to creating decentralized,inexpensive root cellars. The Biodiversity Management group had to consider relationships with the IC sports teams on campus and the hunters who use the Newfield preserve. The Green Building project students made high-quality connections with people who live in solar homes. And the Solar Fountain project helped students to learn about how to create decisions in a complex, multiple stakeholder situation, in addition to working with PV design.The course’s approach of building multiple teams which shared their progress on a regular basis proved to be highly effective as a teaching tool. And, as one student put it, “It was more effective because I was able to apply it to the real world.” Ithaca College students are certainly lucky to have access to such fascinating, hands-on applications of alternative technologies for community sustainability.

College students are certainly lucky to have access to such fascinating, hands-on applications of alternative technologies for community sustainability.