The Sustainable Communities Collaborative celebrates community partnerships

[Penn State] The Sustainable Communities Collaborative celebrates community partnerships

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Campus and Community Sustainability Expo is the culmination of semester-long, student-engaged scholarship projects. Organized by the Sustainable Communities Collaborative, an outreach and curricular engaged scholarship program of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State, the Expo showcases student work in partnership with Pennsylvanian community organizations in a poster format. SCC projects afford students real-world experiences applied to their curriculum and community partners benefit from the opportunity to explore and advance sustainability projects.  

During the fall 2022 semester, SCC facilitated over 20 projects ranging from water quality measurements in partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to trail design in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, and communication campaigns advancing solar applications in partnership with local governments and agricultural audiences.  

With the return to the classroom, students expressed enthusiasm for the opportunity to engage with community partners.  

“I find my students, more than ever, are interested in seeing the impact of their work. Post-pandemic, I find they are particularly interested in engaging with people in the community and making sure their work matters,” said Tara Wyckoff, associate teaching professor in the Bellisario College of Communications. 

Professor Wyckoff’s communications class has been a regular participant in SCC projects.  This semester, her students focused on messaging to address food insecurity in partnership with the YMCA of Centre County Moshannon Valley Branch, as well as Penn State resources. 

The partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and water quality testing provides not only in-the-field training for students, accurate data to assess mitigation efforts associated with sedimentation runoff in the watershed, but also coincides with ongoing research. In the fall, students visited Spruce and Halfmoon Creeks to install equipment, measure and identify macroinvertebrates as indicators of water quality.  

According to associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering Heather Preisendanz, “Participating in the SCC increases the quality of work that the students produce. Knowing that someone else, besides me, cares about what they are doing in the classroom and will be reading their project reports makes them highly motivated to do their best.” 

In Blair County, another partnership continues to grow. Collaboration with the small borough of Williamsburg and the Lower Trail organization started at the onset of the COVID pandemic. Since then, numerous projects ranging from storm water mitigation to trail design, health assessment and alternative energy have created a solid foundation for collaboration. Assistant professor in landscape architecture Alec Spangler’s students will have a significant exhibit at the Expo with eight student-created designs focused on expanded recreation opportunities in Williamsburg.   

“The Sustainable Communities Collaborative has been particularly valuable in design studios for landscape architecture. To truly do design you need to have a stakeholder, and to be connected to communities that are willing to let even beginning students apply sometimes out-of-the-box ideas to their real challenges is something I have seen consistently benefit both parties,” said Spangler. 

The Expo will be co-hosted by State College Borough, the premier partner to the program, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 7 in the State College Municipal Building. The event is open to the public and includes Penn State students, faculty and staff, as well as community partners.  

Ilona Ballreich, SCC manager summarized the event: “The Expo is a highlight at the end of the semester and brings together all stakeholders in a celebratory fashion. The Expo can serve as a marketplace for ideas for community partners. It exemplifies sustainable solutions at the local level and manageable scale, and highlights Penn State’s service to Pennsylvania."

Source: Penn State