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SEED mentorships help grow new sustainability projects


Bill Clark of Rose State College next to a Dream Machine, which lets students trade recyclables for coupons.

Photo credit: Kenneth Beachler

When officials at Rose State College (RSC) in Oklahoma decided to embrace sustainability, they weren’t sure how to go about it. Thanks to a new mentorship initiative developed by the SEED Center, RSC was paired with Lane Community College (LCC), which has extensive experience in sustainability and was able to provide lots of advice.

The SEED (Sustainability Education and Economic Development) Center, a component of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), promotes efforts by two-year institutions to advance education and workforce training and practices to build the “green economy."

SEED’s Mentor Connect Project forms partnerships between community colleges that need help and those that have expertise to share.

“There is a growing pool of colleges and individual leaders at colleges that in some shape or form have had success with sustainability, green jobs training or clean energy programs, and we can connect them with colleges that are looking to advance what they've built,” said SEED Director Todd Cohen.

Mentor Connect Project: Connecting Colleges for Sustainability Skill Building

SEED was started 2009 because of the realization that “sustainability was going to be an issue that touched many, many community colleges,” said LCC President Mary Spilde, who was vice chair of the AACC board of trustees at the time and was instrumental in creating SEED. “Having resources available at the national level is an efficient way to move the sustainability agenda,” she said, so encouraging colleges to collaborate and form partnerships is the next logical step.

The Mentor Connect Project started in 2012 with five partnerships, and SEED is in the process of expanding it to other colleges. SEED this week released a report summarizing promising practices.

Buying into sustainability

For RSC, the mentorship experience was “extraordinary,” said Stan Greil, vice president of workforce development. He values the opportunity to have had free, personal assistance from Roger Ebbage, LCC’s energy management program coordinator and one of the nation’s leading experts in campus sustainability.

Bill Clark, coordinator of the Oklahoma Environmental Training Center at RSC and the college’s operations director, attended training sessions at LCC, which has an Institute for Sustainable Practices.

RSC “hadn’t done much in the way of sustainability other than a little bit of recycling,” Ebbage recalled. He urged RSC to “internalize sustainability on campus.” 

“If we’re teaching this, we also have to practice it ourselves,” he said. “That was the biggest message for them, and they bought it.”

An energy audit

Ebbage and a colleague toured the RSC campus and pointed out steps the college could take to cut energy use and ways to tap the campus as a teaching tool in courses on energy efficiency.

“We looked at their utility bills, helped them figure out how much energy they’re using and compared that with other colleges in the same climate zone,” Ebbage said.

He also shared the instructional content in LCC’s degree programs in energy efficiency, sustainability and water conservation and met with RSC’s advisory committee for energy and sustainability.

SEED webinars 

That committee developed a policy on sustainability, which the RSC board of regents approved last year. Next month, the committee will present recommendations to the president and board on how to implement it, RSC's Greil said. The recommendations may include specific measures such as changing the temperature settings for heating and cooling, turning off lights and computers in unused classrooms, unplugging fax machines and copiers at night, installing motion sensors for lights, purchasing more energy-efficient equipment and scheduling classes to make the best use of HVAC systems.

RSC is just a mile from Tinker Air Force Base, the largest user of energy in the Air Force, so Greil hopes the college can form a partnership to help the base adopt conservation measures. 

Greil would also like to establish education programs on energy efficiency and incorporate sustainability into other courses, such as math and English.

“We’re very excited about this,” he said. “We really want to put sustainability into every aspect of the campus, although it will take a while. If it wasn’t for the SEED mentorship, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Expertise shared

Other partnerships formed in the pilot year of the SEED Center Mentor Connect Project include:

  • Monroe Community College (MCC) in New York wanted to expand career pathways in renewable energy but didn’t have labor market data showing which industries were likely to experience job growth. Los Angeles Trade and Technical College shared its environmental analysis tool for gauging demand in the local economy. As a result of that exercise, MCC developed a stackable certificate approach and a new career pathway integrating solar thermal technology into an associate degree program in HVAC and refrigeration.
  • The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) needed help integrating sustainability consistently into the curricula of its 16 colleges. KCTCS was matched with mentors at Wake Technical Community College and Davidson County Community College, both in North Carolina. They helped KCTCS launch professional development sessions for faculty that resulted in common definitions of sustainability, an inventory of sustainability-related courses and efforts to incorporate sustainability into general education courses.
  • Athens Technical College (ATC) in Georgia received help from Georgia Piedmont Technical College in developing an environmental engineering technology program. ATC is also considering its mentor’s example by incorporating building automation courses into its HVAC program.
  • Clover Park Technical College (Washington) received advice from its mentor, Sante Fe Community College (New Mexico), about integrating its sustainability-related initiatives into a long-term, institution-wide commitment to sustainability.

New partnerships forming

The SEED Center is seeking colleges interested in joining in the second round of the Mentor Connect Project. There is no cost to participate, but colleges must be members of the SEED Center. Colleges selected as mentors will receive some limited compensation.

SEED toolkits

Several SEED members have already requested help with things like identifying labor market needs in clean energy and aligning the curriculum to those needs, creating a sustainable agriculture course and incorporating sustainability as a core institutional principle in the college’s governance system, Cohen said. He anticipates community colleges recognized for their success in sustainability through the SEED Center’s Green Genome Awards program will want to share their expertise as mentors.

Colleges interested in being assigned a mentor can complete a self-assessment questionnaire to help them decide what to focus on. SEED will then identify individuals at other colleges who could help, facilitate an introductory phone conversation and assist partners in developing an action plan that can be accomplished within nine months.

The colleges will then proceed on their own. SEED will periodically check in to see how things are going and, at the end of the project, will interview the partners to see whether the mentor relationship has met its objectives.