Sustainability Expo Highlights Penn State's Leadership In Engaged Scholarship

By Marchella Verdi, Penn State News

Nearly 300 Penn State faculty, staff and students along with local community members turned out to celebrate engaged scholarship at the biannual Campus and Community Sustainability Expo at the State College Borough Building on November 29.

The expo presented work from 18 projects by students in eight courses involved with the Sustainable Communities Collaborative this fall, who provided research and design ideas for 11 municipal, campus, and non-profit community partners.

Ilona Ballreich, program manager for the SCC, emceed the event and congratulated students on the impact of their work on Penn State and community partners.

“Student research and recommendations are moving the needle on our communities’ sustainability challenges, while providing students with rewarding experiences that prepare them for jobs beyond college,” Ballreich said.

The evening’s program kicked off with a thank you and recognition from Tom Fountaine, State College Borough manager. The borough has been one of the principal community partners of the SCC since Penn State’s Sustainability Institute first created the engaged scholarship program in 2013.

This fall, students delivered to the borough research on everything from communications strategies promoting the borough’s sustainability leadership, to risk management tabletop exercises for the borough’s IT staff, to a mapping project of light pollution.

During the expo, more than 40 student teams had an opportunity to present posters to Penn State faculty and staff, as well as to community leaders.

One of the teams from Judd Michael’s Environmental Resource Management 497 course presented a project exploring the potential for the campus bookstore to offer more recycled content notebooks.

The team noted that the experience of working as a group to find potential solutions to real-world problems was eye-opening and rewarding.

“Giving people an option to use recycled materials is not enough; that is why we are looking for other solutions,” said students Ariana Caruso, Emily Kurchock, Ayrton Marriott, Alex Nicastro and Enlin Wang.

The team’s final proposal and partnership with the Penn State HUB-Robeson Center Bookstore will result in notebooks made from recycled materials being added to the store starting in the Spring 2019 semester, with an increased number of notebooks available in the Fall 2019 semester.

The expo recognized students’ projects in two categories-- one for posters that most effectively communicated student teams’ research processes and recommendations and one for projects that were deemed most likely to have the greatest, action-ready impact in helping community partners achieve their sustainability goals.

The prize winners were:

Poster Awards

-- 1st Place: Spring Creek Watershed Atlas: Preservation of Hiking Trails, Faculty lead: Frans Padt, CED 309, Community partner: Spring Creek Watershed Association

-- 2nd Place: The Phishermen – Anti-Phishing Campaigns, Faculty lead: Michael Hills, IST 440, Community partner: State College Borough

-- 3rd Place: Macroinvertebrate Sampling at Buffalo Run, Faculty lead: Heather Gall, ASM/ERM 309, Community partner: Centre County PA Senior Environment Corps

Greatest Project Impact

-- 1st Place: "Bellefonte: Preserve the Past. Fuel the Future." Faculty lead: Tara Wyckoff, COMM 473, Community partner: Bellefonte Borough

-- 2nd Place: Incident Response: Mass Casualty Tabletop Exercise, Faculty lead: Michael Hills, IST 440, Community partner: State College Borough

-- 3rd Place: Integrating the Borough Calendar with ALEXA Technology, Faculty lead: Michael Hills, IST 440, Community partner: State College Borough

Spring Creek Watershed Atlas

Students in the team from Frans Padt’s Community, Environment and Development 309 course were pleased that their poster won for their trails project.

“It feels great to be recognized for our hard and dedicated work,” exclaimed students Alec Bottari, Catherine Martinez, and Sasha Pershanina.

The team focused their research on local hiking trails in State College and tried to think about ways to promote awareness and use of this underappreciated resource.

After weeks of research and preparation, the team proposed to the Spring Creek Watershed Commission that the trails could become more user friendly by developing a robust map system, signage containing fun facts about specific locations, and rankings of trail difficulty.

Penn State Student Farm

Beyond the presentation of student research, the expo also featured an exhibit of student artwork made from natural dyes derived from materials from the Penn State Student Farm. The work was part of projects from the new Sustainable Studio art course offered by Kim Flick and Ann Shostrom.

In her keynote speech at the event, Penn State Vice President for Outreach Tracey Huston celebrated Penn State’s longstanding commitment to outreach and community engagement.

She noted that the SCC program sits alongside other forms of engaged scholarship like Penn State’s focus on “living laboratories” to enable students to create world-class research and deepen their understandings of their studies.

Sustainable Communities Collaborative

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative 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.

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 distinct projects serving 17 community partners.

(Photo: Centre County PA Senior Environment Corps. Visit the Nature Abounds website for information on PA Senior Environment Corps opportunities in your county.)

(Reprinted from Penn State News.)


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