Sustainability 360° Offers Opportunity for Community Outreach Through Praxis

Posted March 15th, 2012 at 3:28 pm.

When Bryn Mawr faculty members Victor Donnay, Carola Hein, and Jody Cohen began planning the 360° course cluster “Perspectives on Sustainability,” they knew they had a topic that was perfect for the multidisciplinary approach of the 360° program.

Given that sustainability is a global problem that often requires local solutions, it also struck the faculty as a perfect opportunity to include a Praxis experience as a core component of this 360°.

“We hope that this experience will give students a sense of empowerment: that they have the intellectual tools to make a difference in the pressing problems facing the world, and the creative mindset to think of new approaches, take charge and make something happen,” says Donnay.

For the Praxis component of “Perspectives on Sustainability,” the 16 students taking part are divided into five groups.

Two students are working with members of the College’s Sustainability Leadership Group to develop an interactive presentation that discusses sustainability at Bryn Mawr. Their presentation outlines the College’s climate-action plan, the many sustainability initiatives that the College has already carried out, and the next steps to reduce energy usage throughout the College. In April, they will present their findings—building by building—and teach community members how to introduce sustainable practices into their everyday lives.

Another group of students is working with the Haverford Reserve to develop informational programs for touch-screen computers that will be located in the Reserve’s Community Recreation and Environmental Center, which is still under construction.  The group is working to provide information on green building and eco-friendly tips, as well as calculations to demonstrate the energy efficiencies of the building.  Another group of Bryn Mawr students already made an impact on the Center when they developed a green energy plan in 2010 that helped Haverford Township win a $300,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to help finance a geothermal heating and cooling system for the facility.

Five students are at FACTS charter school in Philadelphia, where they are developing a curriculum for a gardening elective. This group will apply the knowledge from their 360° classes to their collaboration with a teacher at FACTS on lesson plans for this elective. They are also working to implement a composting system, which the students at FACTS will build in the school’s already-existing garden.

Two groups of students are working at Parkway West High School; one group is designing an environmental curriculum for 10th and 11th grades and spends Monday mornings teaching these lessons to the students. They develop the curriculum throughout the week, work with a representative from the Urban Nutrition Initiative as a resource, and send their work to the teacher for approval. The other group just finished a $2,000 grant proposal to the Urban Nutrition Initiative to build an urban garden. The garden would be located near the school and include 12 raised beds for growing fruits and vegetables. The group is currently working to set up a volunteer clean-up day to clean out the lot before the garden can be built.

According to Jennifer Jiang ’13, a double major in math and economics, the Praxis element is the glue that holds the 360° together, a way for students to take their knowledge and make connections to the world outside of Bryn Mawr.

“I like the fact that our final project is something tangible,” says Jiang. “It delivers change; it’s real. The end of the 360° is not the end of these projects.”

Students plan to blog about their experiences in their Praxis partnerships with the community.

Just before spring break, students participated in a one-week workshop titled, “Design Challenge 2012: What a Waste?,” led by planner and architect Korinna Thielen from HCU Hamburg. During that week, students explored one resource and their own patterns of consumption. They then developed a  realistic idea for a sustainable “product,” coming up with concepts such as a biking trail between Bryn Mawr and Haverford College, a new treatment for the so-called “Valley of Death” area in front of the gymnasium that has to be crossed on the way to Cambrian Row, green stations for recycling copy paper, and other concrete and practicable changes aimed at making Bryn Mawr a more livable and sustainable community.

In addition to spending nine hours of class time together per week, traveling to and taking part in off-campus trips and Praxis placements, and working on group-homework assignments, many of the students in the 360°hang out together when they’re not studying.

“We’re like a little family,” says Jiang. “We have such a diverse group of students majoring in different subjects, but we all care about sustainability. I feel like that’s what brings us all together.”

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