In classrooms across the country students are learning about sustainable communities, but at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire, students have stepped outside the class and are using their heads, hearts and hands to create one.
By Jennifer White
The City of Franklin, New Hampshire, just half an hour east of Colby-Sawyer’s New London, N.H. campus, is on the cusp of a sustainable revitalization. And, thanks to community-based partnerships between local organizations and Colby-Sawyer, students are positioned to both learn from and contribute to that effort.
The vision, spearheaded by Todd Workman, executive director of Franklin-based nonprofit PermaCityLife, is to create a model for cities to become more self-reliant and to transition away from their dependence on fossil fuels. The hope, Workman says, is to “pioneer a new approach to building a collaborative and resilient downtown using the principles of permaculture to differentiate how we derive our livelihood, food supply, transportation, energy, shelter, culture, and sense of community.” (For more specifics on current and future projects in Franklin see the related article in the Green Life section on page 38.) Supported by an Innovation Grant from the college, funded through the Davis Educational Foundation in 2014, Colby-Sawyer has researched, designed and implemented the Sustainable Learning Initiative at Franklin Falls, a comprehensive curricular program paired with Franklin’s revitalization efforts. It is a model for an innovative, collaborative, transdisciplinary, community-based living laboratory that is replicable in other locations, and which addresses the financial sustainability of higher education as well as the sustainability of human institutions.
The initiative is intended to be flexible and modular, allowing faculty to tailor an existing assignment or an entire course to focus on an aspect of the city’s revitalization. Students have already contributed to Franklin’s Master Plan, developed company logos, created signage for the local bike-trail system, constructed an access database for the upcycled art gallery, and conducted a parking inventory for redevelopment planning. This spring, Colby-Sawyer interns will research information technology solutions, create Geographic Information Systems maps, develop tourism strategies, and explore best practices for commercial compost. Environmental Studies major Emily Earnshaw ’16, says that her experience working with the City of Franklin during her junior year “provided many opportunities to grow academically and professionally. My teamwork skills evolved, as well as my abilities to effectively interact with city officials.”
Faculty who received funding from the Campus Compact for New Hampshire’s (CCNH) Environmental Stewardship sub-grant program have generated service-learning courses based in Franklin, including brownfield mitigation through biogeochemistry with the Lakes Region Planning Commission, City of Franklin, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and Choose Franklin; consumer behavior and market research project for CATCH Neighborhood Housing (a regional housing provider based in Concord, NH); and attitudinal surveys and sociological research for a community-based film project. And, faculty across the curriculum have proposed other diverse topic ideas, including aquatic species biodiversity; interpersonal skills for physicians; community ceramics classes and student-run art exhibits; exercise prescription using urban green spaces; calculating timed-release of river volumes; efficiency and renewable energy; recreational event planning; and best practices for community gardens.
In fall 2016, Colby-Sawyer will welcome its first cohort into a dynamic three-year community-based sustainability major that creates experiential learning opportunities for students to explore, design and develop sustainable solutions to real and evolving community needs. The curriculum gives students valuable professional work experience while they are still in school and encourages them to discover and develop their talents and passions. Graduates will pay 20 percent less for their college education and can start their careers or enter graduate school one year earlier by participating in January and May intensives—students will go outside the class and into the businesses and community organizations that are doing the real work of energy sustainability, local food production and zero waste. Through this unique partnership and its hands-on courses, students will have the opportunity to develop relevant skills for creative and complex problem-solving, work directly with regional stakeholders and potential employers, and do their part to help create a resilient, vibrant, diverse and sustainable community in Franklin.
Learn more at: www.sli-franklinfalls.com.
Jennifer White, Director of Sustainability and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies; Sustainable Learning Initiative Program Coordinator.