Four members of the Hobart and William Smith Classes of 2014 graduated with a new minor, Sustainable Community Development (SCD). Established earlier this year, SCD is an interdisciplinary program that integrates curricular and experiential components in architectural studies, economics, environmental studies and sustainability.
“This program is a true differentiator for the HWS campus and the Finger Lakes region,” says Lisa Cleckner, director of the Finger Lakes Institute at HWS.
The minor builds upon the momentum generated in the first three years of the Colleges’ Sustainable Community Development program, which was developed by a steering committee of faculty members and the FLI in response to student interest in and growing public recognition of the need for communities to address social, economic and ecological challenges. The program and the new minor were established with the support of Ridgway White ’02, who facilitated a grant through the Isabel Foundation, of which he is a trustee. White was excited to support the creation of a program that includes the diverse academic disciplines that served as excellent preparation for his career in real estate development with a primary focus on the revitalization of former industrial cities.
“The minor embodies the liberal arts interdisciplinary education that HWS is so well-known for by bridging the macro-analysis of an issue with the person or place on the next corner and gives students the tools to address and form solutions to the challenges facing cities,” says White, who serves as vice president of special projects for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
The minor requires seven courses. Students enter the minor through an introductory course called, “Sustainable Communities,” which familiarizes them with the concept of sustainable development as applied to real world communities. Among other required courses are a technical writing, service learning, and a methods course. The aim of the methods courses is to provide students with skills such as survey design, statistics, ethnography, cost/benefit analysis, historical archive research, GIS, environmental impact assessment, and others that will be valuable in community-based research and service projects.
The final course in the minor is the service-learning capstone course, “Sustainable Community Development Methods and Planning,” requires students to draw on the knowledge of previous coursework and their strengths in their individual majors as they work together to solve a common problem for the community.
“Because a wide range of methods and research skills are useful in tackling real issues in sustainability, the program is also designed to be beneficial to students with interests in a wide range of disciplines,” explains Robin Lewis, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies. “The capstone relies on students coming together with different ways of understanding the world, different ways of looking at the problem at hand, as do group projects in any of the required courses.”
This past semester, students in the capstone course worked with the City of Geneva and residents of the East Lakeview Neighborhood Association to research a brownfield site (a term used for a site in which there is determined or potential environmental contamination) and propose solutions for reusing the property. The neighbors are interested in converting this site into park space, so the students worked on developing ideas based on direction and input from the neighborhood association.
“A significant part of the experiential learning in the SCD program is exploring the area. I believe in forming connections with the area in which you reside, even if you’re only part of it for a while as our students are,” says Lewis. “These projects enable them to not only learn more about this community of which they are a part, but to have a positive impact in it.”
Students taking part in the SCD program or working toward the minor also have the opportunity to use the resources of the Finger Lakes Community Design Center (CDC), located on the third floor of the Finger Lakes Institute at HWS. Supported by the Triad Foundation and the Isabel Foundation, the CDC is a space for faculty, staff, and student teams to participate in community design projects in support of local economic development efforts.
New graduate and SCD minor Hannah Brunelle is attending grad school at California Polytechnic University at Pomona this fall to pursue her Master’s of Science in Regenerative Studies, an interdisciplinary program that explores the means of supporting human communities within the limits of available resources and developing solutions through design and technology. She will also be working as a sustainability apprentice at the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly.
As she begins to apply this fall to graduate schools focusing on marine studies, Laura Kenny ’14, who majored in geoscience and environmental studies, is excited to have graduated with the new minor.
“I believe that my knowledge in the subject will enhance my resume as I apply to jobs in the future; currently, sustainability related careers are on the rise,” says Kenny.
Already pursuing just such a career is Nathan Weiss ’14. He is among those who graduated with the new minor, along with a dual major in environmental studies and sociology, and was recently hired by Conservation Services Group in Westborough, Mass. He will be conducting energy audits for residential homes.
In addition to Lewis, the steering committee for the SCD program is comprised of Assistant Professor of Architecture Jeffrey Blankenship, Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Kirin Makker, Associate Professor of Art and Architecture Stan Matthews, Professor of Environmental Studies John Halfman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Beth Kinne, Professor of Economics Tom Drennen, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Joel Helfrich and Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Cushman. FLI staff members Adam Maurer, sustainability manager, and Cari Varner, program manager of the CDC and SCD program, have provided day-to-day management of the program.
In the photo above, students present their work to city residents and members of the East Lakeview Neighborhood Association.