ACADEMICS: Curriculum, Research, and Community Engagement

The Sustainability and Climate Action Plan is more than a tactical guide to reducing Colgate's ecological and carbon footprints.  The ultimate purpose in everything we do is to provide an exceptional liberal arts education and our sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction efforts are no exception.  By integrating sustainability concepts into our curriculum, research, culture, and broader community engagement, we help to prepare students for life and work in the 21st century.  Moreover, student work in sustainability supports place-based, experiential learning that fosters a lifetime of engaged citizenship.  By nurturing these educational opportunities in sustainability, Colgate will further secure its foothold as an academic institution of excellence while giving our graduates further advantage in the workplace.

5.1 Sustainability and climate change in the curriculum
The environmental and social challenges of the 21st century are pervasive and will impact the professional careers of every student in college today.  Recognizing this, several of the "13 Goals of a Colgate Education" (approved by Colgate faculty serving on the Academic Advisory Board in April 2010) incorporate one or more of the environmental, social, and/or economic dimensions of sustainability.  Among them, they specified that a Colgate education should enable students to “recognize their individual and collective responsibilities for the stewardship of the earth's resources and the natural environment" and graduate as “engaged citizens who strive for a just society.” To meet these ends, Colgate offers over 40 courses per semester that are either focused on or related to sustainability and/or climate change.  Recent examples include courses such as:
  • CORE 123: Climate Change & Human History
  • ECON 228: Environmental Economics
  • ENST 202: Environmental Ethics
  • FSEM 121: The Air Up There
  • FSEM 124: Global Change and You. Each FSEM 124 student in the fall of 2010 took on a research project that explored a specific strategy to reduce Colgate's carbon footprint.  Research projects included lighting upgrades, cropped biomass, alternative transportation, water efficiency and conservation, and waste reduction and recycling.
  • FSEM 130: Energy and Sustainability
  • GEOG 121: Human Impact on the Environment
  • GEOG 310: Geopolitics
  • GEOG 320: Globalization, Development & Environment
  • SOAN 245: Nature, Culture & Politics

Over the years, ENST 480 and ENST 390: Community-Based Study of Environmental Issues have connected Colgate's curriculum with advancing the practice of sustainability on campus and in our community.  These project-based, interdisciplinary courses examine current environmental issues in the context of community-based learning. Topics for investigation are selected by faculty, usually in conjunction with the campus sustainability coordinator, the Upstate Institute, or directly with local and regional agencies or organizations. Students get practical experience working in interdisciplinary teams to examine environmental issues with a goal of developing relevant recommendations.

A few of the many student research projects stemming from these courses include:
  • Willow Biomass: an assessment of the ecological and economic feasibility of growing willow biomass for Colgate University
  • A feasibility report of creating and managing a student-led community vegetable garden on campus
  • An evaluation of and proposal to improve Colgate's electronic waste recycling program
  • An analysis of geothermal applications at Colgate
  • An evaluation of the energy efficiency of Colgate buildings using the EPA Portfolio Manager
  • A critique of institutional climate action plans and recommendations for Colgate's plan
  • Commuting behaviors of Colgate employees and recommendations for implementing a carpooling program
  • Identifying the benefits and barriers of fostering sustainable behavior on campus
  • Researching the barriers and opportunities of increasing local food options in our campus dining halls
  • Evaluating the voluntary carbon offset market for application at Colgate. 
  • Paper purchasing and consumption at Colgate University: An analysis of current paper use and recommendations for the future. 
  • Investigation of the feasibility of incorporating hybrid and electric vehicles into the Colgate vehicle fleet. 
  • Colgate University's heating system: examining the sustainability of woody biomass. 
  • Exploring the economic, environmental and social implications of trayless dining at Colgate University. 

These student research projects are a sample of recent academic research done in collaboration with the Sustainability Office with a focus on campus operations and institutional planning.  These opportunities are engaging to students and valuable to their educational experience.  At the same time, this research provides important data and analyses that ultimately help to advance the practice of sustainability at Colgate.   

Recommended Action:
One mechanism to further promote sustainability in the curriculum is through the annual faculty retreat held at the White Eagle Conference Center.  In Spring 2011, the first sustainability in the curriculum seminar was held at White Eagle.  During this discussion, faculty shared best practices about how they incorporate sustainability into their programs and explored the meaning of sustainability as it relates to their area of expertise.   In the years ahead, the Sustainability Council will continue to work with faculty and the faculty retreat organizers to enhance and expand the sustainability session at White Eagle. 

5.2 Co-curricular education

Center for Leadership and Student Involvement (CLSI)
The Center for Leadership & Student Involvement (CLSI) supports, challenges, and inspires Colgate students to become responsible and engaged citizens. CLSI staff encourage students to find meaningful co-curricular opportunities and they help students build their leadership skills in the areas of communication, budget management, delegating, and managing logistical aspects of events. 

CLSI is the hub for the student-run organizations on campus that are recognized by the Student Government Association (SGA).  Currently, there are 10 student organizations representing about 100 students that actively promote sustainability on campus.  Student clubs such as the Students for Environmental Action, Green Thumbs, the Compost Club, and Green Bikes serve as peer educators who foster the principles of sustainability into day-to-day learning and living at Colgate. 

Students also organize annual events such as the Green Summit, 13 Days of Green, Eco-Olympics, and RecycleMania.  Each of these events instill the values of sustainability into Colgate's culture while providing students the opportunity to develop their organizational and leadership skills. 

Thought Into Action Institute (TIA)
One exciting new initiative that is supported by CLSI is the Thought into Action Institute (TIA).  Thought into Action is a non-credit practical entrepreneur course.  The new institute is led by Alumnus Andy Greenfield '74 who - along with other institute instructors - offer tools, techniques, and support to turn a student idea or project into reality. 

Recent student projects include developing a system to compost organic waste from Colgate's dining halls, developing the half-acre student vegetable garden, and launching a business that will sell environmentally-friendly office and school supplies. 

Sustainability Office Internships
Throughout the year, Colgate's Sustainability Office hires student interns.  These internships offer a great way for students to become introduced to campus sustainability and the sustainability movement in general.  Through collaboration with Colgate's Sustainability Coordinator, students develop measurable and obtainable goals that they work on throughout their internship.  Student interns have successfully completed a cost-benefit analysis of implementing a composting program at Colgate, completed Colgate's first comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory, developed Colgate's Green Living Program, managed and led the startup of Colgate’s vegetable garden, enhanced and expanded the Green Bikes Program, implemented a campus-wide electronic waste recycling program, created a student sustainability radio show on WRCU, and evaluated and made recommendations for improving Colgate's recycling infrastructure.

Moreover, sustainability interns learn professional skills such as meeting facilitation, strategic planning, establishing meeting agendas, critical analysis, writing proposals, interdisciplinary collaboration, and other important professional skills.

5.3 Service-learning and volunteerism

Colgate University's Upstate Institute creates linkages between Colgate University and the regional community to engage students, faculty, staff and residents in research and a reciprocal transfer of knowledge that will enhance the economic, environmental, social and cultural capacity of the region. Upstate Institute supported projects provide a model of community collaboration and civic engagement for our students and within higher education.

The Upstate Institutes' Field School matches students with regional community, government or non-profit organizations to develop and implement projects that bolster organizational capacity. Field School fellows work with a community partner to create and complete projects that help advance sustainability in the Upstate region.  The Institute also supports engagement in the community within the framework of an academic course in a variety of ways. This community-based research allows students to complete independent work on innovative projects that provide a community benefit.  Through place-based learning, students develop a deeper understanding of the issues facing the Upstate region and a strong appreciation for what the region has to offer.

In the summer of 2010, 19 Colgate students worked with community, not-for-profit and government organizations as part of the Upstate Institute Field School.  A few examples of Field School students and their work includes:
  • Molly Kunzman, '12, worked with the Agricultural Economic Development Program to plan, implement and evaluate the third annual Buy Local week. This event highlighted the benefits to the economy, environment and agricultural community of buying locally. The week included three events: a Local Foods showcase, a Fresh! Gala, and an Open Farm Day. Molly promoted the event throughout the county with postcards, fliers, and press releases, recruiting volunteers, working with restaurants, and assisting during the event. After the week, she created a follow-up survey for participating farms and restaurants.
  • Michael Palmer ‘10 and Katy Morley '10 completed rapid market assessments of the four farmers’ markets of Madison County: Lenox, Cazenovia, Hamilton, and Oneida. Their research demonstrated the importance of farmers’ markets to the local economy. Michael's preliminary estimates of market sales indicated that the Hamilton market sees over $20,000 of sales per day. A county-wide estimate for the entire season is near one million dollars.
  • Zach Roman '12 worked on a project that will ultimately result in a series of different trails connecting Utica and Binghamton, allowing people to walk or bike the 97 mile distance between the two cities.
  • Kelly Boyle ’10 worked with For the Good, an organization in Utica that runs the Urban Garden Initiative, a community driven project that provides inner city residents with fresh fruits and vegetables in exchange for work done in the gardens. The city of Utica has supported the initiative by providing two additional sites for the initiative, which will allow for the creation of over 100 additional raised beds.
  • Nicole Dennis '11 completed a qualitative research study sponsored by Shapna Tea & Coffee Company and the Upstate Institute.  Shapna reinvests 40% of its net profits into sustainable community development initiatives. 20% is reinvested in the farming communities where Shapna products are grown in Bangladesh and Uganda and 20% is reinvested where the products are purchased. Because the Barge Canal Coffee Co. in Hamilton serves Shapna Tea & Coffee, 20% of net sales will be reinvested into Hamilton and the greater community.

Additionally, the Institute values scholarly collaboration as a way to support the region. The Upstate Institute serves to promote faculty scholarship on, or directly pertaining to, the upstate region of New York by providing support for both the costs of research as well as a stipend award for the Colgate faculty investigator. Recent faculty research awards include:
  • Charles “Pete” Banner-Haley, Professor of History and Africana & Latin American Studies, is conducting research on the history of African Americans in the Upstate counties of Broome, Chemung and Steuben to consider gender relations between African American men and women between 1890 and 1950. Once completed, this research will contribute to an understanding of African American experience in these counties, which is an important, and often overlooked, part of New York State history.
  • Beth Parks, Associate Professor of Physics, is conducting research on the development of a new device that will allow homeowners to learn the insulation levels in their homes and start the process of increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. For homeowners in a severe climate such as Upstate New York who spend over $1,000 annually on heating, the product can prove beneficial. With this grant, Parks can test the device in single-family homes in the village of Hamilton.
  • Daisaku Yamamoto, Assistant Professor of Geography and Asian Studies conducted research on rural prosperity and resilience in the Upstate New York Region. Rural prosperity is an alternate way of measuring a community’s success by considering employment rates, levels of poverty, school enrollment, and housing conditions, in addition to patterns of economic growth.

Service learning that incorporates the theory and practice of sustainability also takes place through the formal curriculum.  A few recent examples include:

FSEM 130: Energy and Sustainability, Professor Beth Park
Course description: This first‐year seminar studied energy use with the goal of understanding the challenges and possibilities of sustainable practices. In addition to readings and problem sets, students participated in projects related to the course content. They examined the energy use of a first year residence hall on campus, and worked with residents and with Buildings & Grounds to decrease energy use. They also participated in a Habitat for Humanity build run by the Oneida County chapter, which is trying to gain Energy Star and LEED certifications for their newly constructed homes.

GEOG 401: Senior Seminar, Professor Jessica Graybill
Course description: The students in this course worked in groups to better understand cultural transformation, socio-spatial transformation, and green space transformation of Utica, NY. Students were involved in data collection, analysis, and writing and presenting of a research paper. The first two groups working with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees were able to conduct interviews of Bosnian refugees to gain an understanding about their sense of place and create a spatial distribution map of residence of different refugee groups within the city of Utica. This research has been shared with the Refugee Center. The third group worked to ground truth and document the history of green spaces in Utica.

The Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (the COVE) is Colgate's center for service, citizenship, and community building. The COVE supports volunteer organizations, service learning classes, internship programs, residential life initiatives, and social change oriented career counseling. COVE sponsored student groups that work to promote sustainability in our region include:

Colgate Hunger Outreach Program (CHOP)
CHOP targets issues of hunger in Madison County and strives to educate the Colgate community about the deeper issues surrounding hunger and poverty. Group members participate directly in one or more of the following ways: working in the Friendship Inn Soup Kitchen on Monday nights, volunteering at the Hamilton Food Cupboard on Tuesdays or Thursdays, or salvaging food from various locations on campus to deliver to the soup kitchen. The group also hosts fundraising events throughout the semester.

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit organization dedicated to providing affordable, decent housing to families in need. Colgate Habitat helped complete a home last May and while funds are raised for a subsequent build, Colgate Habitat will focus on landscaping assistance, trail maintenance, general construction repairs and fundraising. Overall, Habitat champions hard work and cooperation to improve lives and living conditions throughout the Hamilton area.

The Green Earth Gang (GEG)
The Green Earth Gang (GEG) mission is to promote environmental awareness among children ages 8 – 10 in local schools through experiential and interactive activities. Once every two weeks the GEG student members teach a 40-minute class about an environment-related topic.  The GEG works with elementary students and their teachers in hopes that the students will apply what they learn to their daily lives.

Literacy for Refugees
The mission of the group is to provide general learning assistance to teenage refugees studying at Proctor High School, in Utica, N.Y.  Many refugees rank at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum and are marginalized by the society. In the educational environment, refugees are put into age appropriate classes without knowing any English. Literacy for Refugees aims to alleviate this inequity by tutoring refugees in English, for three hours a week, on a designated afternoon.

The Hamilton Outdoor Group (HOG)
The mission of HOG is to teach local Hamilton middle schoolers outdoor skills and an environmental ethic that will encourage them to experience the outdoors in a positive manner. HOG volunteers and Hamilton students meet at the Outdoor Education Base Camp and spend about 90 minutes outside, usually on the ski hill. Activities include scavenger hunts, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and capture the flag.