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Support Sustainability Efforts at Penn State

“At Penn State, sustainability is integral to endeavors University-wide that support our tripartite mission of teaching, research, and service. It is also woven throughout the University’s strategic plan, which has stewarding our planet’s resources and enhancing individual and population health among its crucial priorities. The work of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute enables us to pursue consequential goals in these and many other areas, helping us to achieve them and ultimately effect meaningful change to benefit the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and beyond.” -- Nicholas P. Jones, Executive Vice President and Provost

Penn State’s Sustainability Institute is working to realize Penn State’s land grant mission for the 21st century and beyond. By bringing students, researchers, teachers, and staff together with one another and our communities, government, NGOs, and industry we are rising to today’s challenges with creativity and imagination, knowledge and expertise, energy, and a commitment to the dignity of all people and the web of life. With your support, we can more rapidly pursue shared health and happiness, economic well-being and security, and environmental integrity in an age of remarkable change.

From its beginnings as the Farmer’s High School in the 1800s, Penn State has been the land grant institution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our faculty and staff have served to develop our citizens through technical, professional, and liberal arts education that benefits the common good of the common people in the commonwealth. We have trained farmers and engineers, scientists and lawyers, journalists and philosophers, artists and teachers, policy makers and doctors who have gone on to change the world as professionals and citizens.

We are entering the Anthropocene era, a period in which human economic activities and social changes are impacting our landscapes, water systems, biodiversity and climate, as they influence, economic gender and ethnic inequalities, access to healthcare, nutritious food, education, and sanitation. As a comprehensive land-grant university, Penn State is positioned to tackle these challenges.

Since the Sustainability Institute was founded in 2013, Penn State has made impressive progress on sustainability.

But we can go much further.

For Penn State wants to be viewed as a leader in sustainability, we must re-energize and grow our efforts. We need to support the wholesale integration of sustainability across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With our 24 campuses we are uniquely positioned to do so. We need sustainability to be infused in the curriculum of the university through general education, programs of study across the colleges, and by supporting champions in each of our Colleges and across our Commonwealth campuses. We have to support our students so that they lead us to create the safe and just future they want while they work with us here and now. We know that the research of the future has to be solutions-oriented and translated into action where we live, work, and play – in our operations and communities. Our policies in finance, business, and operations must rise to meet our climate commitments under our current Strategic Plan and Penn State’s signature to the We Are Still In campaign, and our aspirations of being the Energy University, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030. Through outreach, we have to continue to create beneficial and mutual relationships for smart, connected, healthy, and resilient communities. And all the while, we have to make sure that sustainability is a fundamental value built into hiring, retention and advancement, accounting, and development.

We are seeking support for the following specific projects that will allow us to operationalise sustainability in our communities:

1. Sustainable Food Systems and Student Farm

Funding for the Sustainable Food Systems Program will fund internships for Penn State students to work and learn on the Student Farm. The internships are in-depth learning and leadership opportunities for students across any major at Penn State. Interns are selected through a competitive interview process, receive training during spring semester, and work as interns beginning in the summer term, through a full calendar year.

Responsibilities of and skills built by interns span far beyond maintaining the Student Farm. Interns gain leadership skills as they lead volunteer groups, present and give tours to young and old, and plan and implement events and workshops. Interns also gain business skills as they plan farm operations, manage sales and marketing, invoice product, and make deliveries. Finally, interns gain skills in community development as they work alongside community partners such as area food pantries and school gardens to advance their mission. A one-year internship for one Penn State student is $10,000.



2.  Sustainable Communities Collaborative

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) connects Penn State faculty, students, and staff with local communities to address sustainability challenges and opportunities through an engaged, collaborative effort. The SCC is a reconceptualization of the public university contributing to the public good by working across disciplines and bringing diverse expertise to bear on relevant local and regional challenges. The program currently operates in the following campus communities: Abington, Altoona, Beaver, Behrend, Brandywine, and University Park.

Over a four year period, more than 1,100 students worked with dozens of community partners to complete 97 projects addressing everything from renewable energy to waste minimization and recycling, alternative transportation, local food systems and nutrition, water quality, stormwater mitigation, and economic development. 

$10,000 supports a coordinator to administer the program for one semester at one of our campus locations for its surrounding communities. 



3.  Sustainability Experience Center

This 9.4 acre site behind the Beaver stadium is an experiential space currently home to the Morning Star Solar House, Wind Powered Electric Vehicle Charging Station, a Community Garden and a Walnut Forest and open to visitors. We want to enliven this space with outdoor sustainability-themed educational sculptures created by community and university artists.



4.  Solar Ecology

How do we use the sun? How do we perceive the sun? How do we understand the patterns of the sun interacting with the earth and our choices to design, adapt, and improve our livelihoods using that flow of light?

Solar ecology is the systems framework of discovery and design associated with solar energy conversion writ large, coupled with the dynamic context of locale (e.g. a regime of place and time), the affected stakeholders, and the diverse technologies or ecosystems providing preferred solar goods and services (i.e. solar utility). It is an exploration of patterns of the flow of light from the sun within the dynamic context of the place where we live and act out our lives. It includes the seasons, the ways stakeholders in an environment interact with each other and make decisions, and the ways we choose the technologies that we use in our lives. Put another way, it is the systemic linkage of humans and other life founded upon the favorable solar energy abundance on Earth. 

Solar ecology education, research, and community engagement at Penn State allows us to engage in a living laboratory for science, humanities, arts, design, and engineering. We measure and explore the light from the sun interacting with the earth, with the environment, with the solar technologies that we create and use, the solar technologies that we adapt for food, and the solar technologies that we live in (like photovoltaics, agriculture, and our homes, respectively).