Students Pursue Local Sustainability Project – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Pursue Local Sustainability Project

Students in the “Sustainable Community Development Capstone” course recently presented their findings on best practices for solid waste management to a special steering committee of the Town of Geneva. The midterm presentation is part of a semester-long project to provide the Town of Geneva with recommendations for solid waste management options that best suit community needs.

The required capstone course, taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis and Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tarah Rowse, entered into a formal memorandum of understanding with the Town to assist in its efforts to improve solid waste management. A steering committee was developed for the project, which includes Town of Geneva Supervisor Mark Venuti and Town of Geneva Assistant Supervisor Mark Palmieri as well as other residents and community leaders.

“One of the most important things about the sustainable community development minor is that we do this hands-on research that actually makes a difference,” says Emily Blanchard ’17. “It’s really interesting to be able to use all the skills we’ve learned in our courses leading up to the capstone and make a difference within our community, especially with something as important as solid waste management.”

Students spent the first half of the semester preparing for the “precedent analysis” portion of the project, in which they researched methods implemented in towns with similar needs as Geneva. The class was split into three topic-based focus groups, including trash and recycling, organics and household hazardous waste. 

The presentation covered a range of solid waste management methods – from backyard composting to “swap shops,” educational tools, and legislation – to inform the steering committee and community members in attendance of the viable options available for Geneva to consider implementing.

After the presentation, the steering committee had the opportunity to offer feedback and ask questions, which the students will now use to drive their research in the final phase of the project – providing evidence-based recommendations for solid waste management that are appropriate to Geneva and its needs. The class will present their final recommendations to the steering committee in May.

“They’re working directly with community members to develop the recommendations best suited for the town’s needs,” Rowse says. “The primary effect of community-based research is that it better engages and motivates the students in terms of outcomes. This increased engagement creates an effective platform for building skills and gaining experience in the process of community-based change.”

Students in the class agree, feeling a heightened connection to the project has not only advanced their research skills but has also allowed them to leave a lasting impact on the community. Mac Olson ’16, a member of the Hobart hockey team, says the project gave him and two of his teammates in the class the opportunity to work with the community members who “come out every weekend to our games to support us.”

“It feels great to support them in return,” he says.  

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