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Feature: University Student Engagement Helps Earn Bellefonte DEP Composting Grant

By: Marchella Verdi, Penn State News

The Borough of Bellefonte-- located in Centre County, Pennsylvania-- announced at its most recent Borough Council meeting that it had received a grant of $388,000 from the Department of Environmental Protection to make needed upgrades to its compost facility site.

The grant application was based on work done by Penn State students who partnered with Bellefonte through the Sustainability Communities Collaborative, an engaged scholarship program facilitated by Penn State’s Sustainability Institute.

For Assistant Bellefonte Borough Manager Don Holderman, the students were instrumental in receiving the grant.

“For a borough like Bellefonte, this is a significant grant award and will have a major impact, both from an effective and efficiency standpoint in our future composting,” Holderman said. “We could not be more thrilled to see a project that benefited both [Penn State] students and the Borough being this successful.”

In 2016, Penn State students from University Park campus taking a two-semester course sequence in Biological Engineering, BE 460 and BE 466W, worked with Bellefonte officials to examine conditions at its compost facility where residents drop off biodegradable materials such as grass clippings, leaves, and brush.

The borough currently turns these materials into compost for sale to residents, but it wants to expand the facility to be able to sell compost to commercial entities by incorporating food waste and, potentially, Class B biosolids.

Megan Marshall, associate teaching professor of agricultural and biological engineering, led students in the capstone courses.

“While sustainability is not new to BE students, SCC projects challenge students to determine the best solution to a problem,” Marshall said.

The SCC facilitates partnerships between Penn State classes and community partners seeking help to advance their sustainability goals.

Students engage in applied, real-world research that benefits communities that otherwise lack the time, resources, or expertise to undertake initial steps on their projects. The student projects do not replace the work of professionals, but act as catalysts to begin new work. 

In the case of Bellefonte, students created business plans for selling compost and designed new, expanded site plans suitable for Bellefonte to be able to accept biosolids and food waste in the future.

At the end of their research, the students also recommended that the Borough purchase a mechanical screener to improve the quality of the compost, specifically for commercial buyers.

Bellefonte will use the DEP grant to execute the recommendations by the students and work towards expanding their compost facility site.

Ilona Ballreich, SCC’s program manager, praised the grant as a tribute to the impactful work and research done by the students.

“Students’ research not only provided the baseline data for a successful application, but it prepared the borough to be more sustainable, employ professionals for the execution of the work, and serve its residents,” Ballreich said. “This is a win-win for all.”

Currently six Penn State campuses employ the SCC model, which last year engaged 446 students on the University Park campus alone, led by 19 faculty from eight colleges on 46 projects serving 17 community partners.

“I can only hope that somehow [the students] are aware, wherever they may be today, how instrumental and impactful their work was and how appreciative we are for their efforts,” Holderman concluded.


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(Reprinted from Penn State News.)

[Posted: Oct. 25, 2018]


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