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Sustainable Communities

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Who we are


Michele Halsell

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) connects University Park faculty, students, and staff with local communities to address sustainability challenges through an engaged, collaborative effort. Innovative University/community-based collaborations are developed to engage PSU faculty and students in existing courses from across the University with real world, community-identified projects to meet the partnering community’s sustainability priorities. Each project is a facilitated effort, involving interdisciplinary faculty expertise and students, co-led by a key community leader and the University’s SCC staff, to help develop and support thriving, healthy communities and advance student learning about the scholarship of sustainability. 

What we do

Through the SCC, Penn State faculty members partner with selected communities in Pennsylvania, including representatives from local governments, campuses, businesses, and other organizations. Once the partnering community leaders have identified a set of projects that contribute to advancing their sustainability goals, they are then matched with existing PSU courses that include an experiential learning element. Meetings are held to establish the details of the projects, taking into account the needs and interests of both the community and faculty partners.Projects are typically addressed in the time frame of one semester, although some projects may span two semesters and may involve more than one course, particularly if the project is multi-dimensional and would benefit from an interdisciplinary problem solving approach. Written project reports are provided to community stakeholders at the conclusion of each project.

Project and program impacts will be evaluated through post-project faculty, student, and community partner assessments. Impact assessment metrics may include, but are not limited to, measuring the effects immersive and experiential learning has on students, the collective capability of a University-community partnership to advance and influence positive sustainable change, and how a sustainability project-based course may affect the way faculty teach.

2014-2015 Community Partner: The State College Borough State College Borough logo

The State College Borough is home to over 42,000 residents.  Over 70% of the town’s residents are Penn State students, many of which participate in and volunteer for Borough events and organizations. The Borough strives to create a community that entices visitors with their many historic, social, and retail attractions – but also a diverse community that can be home to students, young professionals, internationals, and retirees alike. Having committed to a Climate Protection Community in 2007, the Borough has also taken many steps to make State College an environmentally friendly community, like purchasing green energy, installing rain gardens, recycling food waste, and restoring wetlands. Many areas of State College are also bike and pedestrian friendly, with an ever-increasing number of bikeways. As put by the Mayor of State College, “We are committed to a green lifestyle, reducing our energy footprint, and sharing what we have learned with our residents so that the entire State College community can work together to further our broad environmental commitment.” [2011 State College Borough Annual Report]

Following a successful pilot year, the SCC will continue to partner with the State College Borough to develop and pursue innovative sustainability projects with Penn State faculty and staff.

Watch a video on the Sustainable Communities Collaborative below.  


Michele Halsell, 814-867-4578


SCC 2014-15 Annual Report

The SCC Annual Report highlights projects completed in the 2014-15 academic year. Find out more about Penn State's Sustainability Institute, SCC, community partners, and project outcomes. 





Spring 2015 Projects

Net-Zero Energy: Engineering & Human Resources

Working across disciplines, LER 460 and ELS students will develop a list of practical ways to produce energy that are not fossil fuel based, estimate the effort/costs to develop these energy sources, identify other communities throughout the world that have similar goals, and propose public policies that State College Borough should enact that will ensure achievement of these goals.

Organization: Engineering Leadership Society
Contact: Kevin Magee and Michael Thee
Course: LER 460: Human Resource Ethics
Faculty: Dr. Tom Hogan, Professor of Practice, School of Labor and Employment Relations
Community Collaborator: Mark Whitfield, State College Borough

Survey of Residential Composting Knowledge & Attitudes

CED 475 students will survey Centre Region residents to assess interest in and knowledge about composting so that the Centre Region Council of Governments may choose a potential location for pilot residential composting program. 

Course: CED 475: Capstone Seminar
Faculty: Tim Kelsey, Professor
Community Collaborator: Pam Adams, Centre Region Council of Governments

Residential Stormwater: Education & Mitigation

The AEC interns will plan and conduct a participatory residential stormwater mitigation workshop that will help to inform community members about stormwater issues and best management practices to be applied on their own properties.

Organization: Agriculture & Environment Center (AEC) 
Faculty: Matt Royer, Director of AEC
Community Collaborator: Amy Kerner, State College Borough

Promotion of Local Food Systems

SUST 200 students will help the Boalsburg Farmers’ Market to expand its local and social media operation by conducting interviews with the Market’s purveyors and writing up short narratives about the purveyors’ products and experiences in Central PA.

Course: SUST 200: Foundations of Sustainability Leadership
Faculty: Dr. Susannah Barsom, Professor
Community Collaborator: Peter Buckland, Boalsburg Farmers' Market

A Field Study on Commercial Composting Customers

To inform the future expansion of the State College Borough’s commercial composting program, HM students will be working with the SCB’s Public Work’s department to assess the best management practices of their current commercial partners and the challenges they’ve faced in participating in the program.

Course: HM Independent Study
Faculty: Dave Cranage, Professor
Community Collaborator: Ed Holmes and Ed Hicks, State College Borough

Communication Strategies for Sustainable Behavior

COMM 420 students will work with the Foxdale Sustainability Committee to conduct primary data collection (interviews, focus groups, surveys) in order to develop communication strategies to help promote recycling, composting, and other sustainable behaviors among their residents.

Course: COMM 420: Research Methods in Advertising and Public Relations
Faculty: Lee Ahern, Professor
Community Collaborator: Julia Hix and Rich Lysle, Foxdale Village

Marketing of a Compost Program and its Products

BA 442 students will help to create a program for the State College Borough’s Residential Composting program to help attract new commercial customers for their compost product so that the composting program may continue to expand in the future.

Course: BA 442: Sustainable Behavior of Consumers, Firms, & Societies
Faculty: Erik Foley, Professor
Community Collaborator: Ed Holmes and Ed Hicks, State College Borough

Capturing the SCC Story

Working in groups, the PHOTO 402 students will collaborate with the other SCC participants in order to capture stories and related images as their projects develop over the Spring semester.

Course: PHOTO 402: Photographic Narratives
Faculty: Steven Rubin, Professor
Community Collaborator: Michele Halsell and Elly Engle, Sustainability Institute

2013-2014 Projects

Management of Human Capital

Talent Acquisition - Part 1

Collaboration Team will explore how to use sustainability to improve recruitment and retention of mid-level and senior-level personnel, advisory board volunteers, and event volunteers.

Faculty: Dr. Tom Hogan, Professor of Practice, School of Labor and Employment Relations
Course: Labor and Employment Relations #460-Ethics in Residence
Community Collaborator: Alan Sam, State College Sustainability Committee; Department of Public Works, Environmental Coordinator

Talent Acquisition - Part 2

Follow-up on recommendations from the SCC Fall Project report the Collaboration Team will explore attraction and retention of event volunteers. Students will collaborate with Borough staff to develop an employment brand management message on the topics of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and employer ethics. Students will analyze data received from the Boroughs upcoming Focus Group on Community Volunteerism and Engage State College.

Faculty: Dr. Tom Hogan, Professor of Practice, School of Labor and Employment Relations, College of Liberal Arts
Course: Labor and Employment Relations #460-Ethics in Residence
Community Collaborator: Alan Sam, State College Sustainability Committee; Department of Public Works, Environmental Coordinator 

Sustainable Asset Management 

Closed Loop Inventory & Surplus Goods - Part 1

Collaboration Team will explore, propose and implement sustainable material management practices for inventory and surplus goods in the Borough. This project will include a clean-up of inventory and purchasing procedures and practice for the Borough as well as a look at similar communities for sustainable asset management practices as basis for implementing a ‘closed-loop’ zero-waste asset inventory and surplus disposal system.

Faculty: Dr. Felisa Preciado, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Supply Chain and Information Systems, Smeal College of Business.
Course: Schreyer’s Honor’s Thesis #SCM 494-H
Faculty: Dr. Robert Novack, Associate Professor Supply Chain and Information Systems.
Course: Business Administration #297-C ‘Sapphire Leadership Seminar'
Community Collaborator: Ernie Dabiero, Administration Department, Purchasing and Risk Management

Closed Loop Inventory & Surplus Goods - Part 2 

Implementation of the Asset Management Plan for sustainable material management practices for inventory and surplus goods in the Borough developed in the Fall Semester will be carried out by 5 Sapphire Students under the direction of Schreyer Honor’s Student Jordan Schaeffer, as part of their requirements for the Sapphire Leadership Program. This is will contribute to the development of a ‘closed-loop’ zero-waste asset inventory and surplus disposal system for the Borough.

Faculty: Dr. Felisa Preciado, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Supply Chain and Information Systems, Smeal College of Business
Course: Shreyer's Honors Thesis - SCM 494-H
Faculty: Dr. Robert Novack, Associate Professor, Supply Chain and Information Systems, Smeal College of Business
Course: Business Administration #297-C - Sapphire Leadership Seminar
Community Collaborator: Ernie Dabiero, Adminstration Department, Purchasing and Risk Management

Evaluation of Borough's Residential Composting Program

Collaboration team will focus on the evaluation of the borough residential composting program.  This will include assessing the accuracy of residents’ knowledge about the composting program and identifying participation barriers. Anticipated results are recommendations on how to strengthen the program.

Faculty: Dr. Tim Kelsey, Professor, Community, Environment and Development (CED) College of Ag. Sci
Course: CED 475 - Capstone Projects for Community Environment and Development Majors
Community Collaborator: Alan Sam, State College Sustainability Committee; Department of Public Works, Environmental Coordinator

Green Power Community

Collaborative Team will study resident decision making regarding Green Power purchasing by State College Borough residents. This work will assist the Borough in future sustainability planning and policy setting efforts.

Faculty: Dr. Janet Swim, Psychology, College of Liberal Arts
Course: Psych 419 - Psychology and a Sustainable World
Community Collaborator: Courtney Hayden, Administration Department, Special Projects 

Live and Work Sustainability of Downtown

Young Professionals
Collaborative Team will engage in a research project focused on identifying potential strategies that the State College Borough can use to attract and/or retain young professionals.

Faculty: Dr. Tim Kelsey, Professor, Community, Environment and Development (CED) College of Ag. Sci.
Course: CED 475 Capstone Projects for Community Environment and Development Majors
Community Collaborators: Anne Messner and Megan Tuttle, Department of Planning

Homestead Investment Program

Sustaining Quality Neighborhoods
The collaboration will explore the question of housing tenure and transition with the Borough.  A real estate analysis of college towns will be the focus of class work. Additional information will be gained through a disciplined research study to provide information to decision makers in the Homestead Investment Program.

Faculty: Dr. Ed Coulson, Professor of Economics, King Faculty Fellow and Professor of Real Estate, College of Liberal Arts.
Course: Risk Management 450, Contemporary Issues in Real Estate
Community Collaborator: Carl Hess, Director, Department of Planning

Biking in the Region

Reducing the Barriers to Cycling
Collaboration Team will look into the barriers that prevent community members from the Centre Region, in all demographics, from bicycling for exercise, recreation and commuting and develop a health promotion campaign to reduce barriers to cycling.

Faculty: Dr. Lori Francis, Associate Professor, Department of Biobehavioral Health.
Course: Biobehavioral Health #416-Health Promotion 2
Community Collaborator: Courtney Hayden, Administration Department, Special Projects 

Storm Water Management

Visualizing the Potentials
Collaboration Team will visualize potential storm water best management practice for the future Easterly Parkway street reconstruction to be used by Borough staff to begin discussions with stakeholders about the construction project.

Faculty: Associate Professor Stuart Echols, Stuckeman School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Graphic Design.
Course: Larch #431-Landscape Architecture Design Implementation III
Community Collaborator: Amy Kerner, Public Works, Borough Engineer 

Way-finding in Community Design and Planning

Reducing Auto Emissions
Part 1 - Collaboration team will explore and develop a way-finding plan to more efficiently direct people to various parking options available in town so as to decrease auto emissions.
Part 2 - Collaboration team will study bicycle and pedestrian linkages for design and planning of the West End to reduce auto dependency and increase cycling and pedestrian transportation modes.

Faculty: Associate Professor Mallika Bose, Stuckeman School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Graphic Design.
Course: Larch #424 - Community Engagement in Design and Planning
Community Collaborator: Anne Messner, Planning Department 

Innovation & Education Through Design

Storm Water Mitigation in Public Parks
Creation of original storm water designs for borough parks that both help to mitigate storm water issues and educate the public.

Faculty: Heather Gall, Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Natural Resource Engineering
Course: BE 467: Design of Storm Water and Erosion Control Facilities | College of Ag Sciences & College of Engineering - Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Borough: Amy Kerner, borough engineer
Sustainability Challenge: Environmental, Sustainable Water Resource

Defining Net-Zero Energy

A Case Study Investigation
Case studies of other communities that have sought net-zero energy initiatives, specifically looking at issues related to local businesses and human resources.

Faculty: Tom Hogan, Professor of Practice, Human Resource Management
Course: LER 460: Human Resource Ethics | College of Liberal Arts - Labor and Employment Relations
Borough: Mark Whitfield, Public Works Director
Sustainability Challenge: Cultural, Sustainable Community Development

Resolving Storm Water Tensions

Mediation in Established Neighborhoods
Mediation of conflicts arising around storm water in particular borough neighborhoods in response to the increased frequency of flash flooding in State College.

Faculty: Lara Fowler, Senior Lecturer, Penn State Law
Course: SKILS 972: Mediation of Environmental and Public Conflicts | Penn State Dickinson School of Law
Borough: Amy Kerner, borough engineer
Sustainability Challenge: Cultural, Sustainable Community Development

Images and Narratives

Sharing the SCC Story
Capturing the story of the SCC and its affiliated projects and collaborators through photographic narratives.

Faculty: Steve Rubin, Associate Professor of Art
Course: PHOTO402: Photographic Narratives | College of Arts & Architecture - School of Visual Arts
Borough: Lauren Muthler, community engagement, Americorps member
Sustainabilty Challenge: Cultural, Sustainable Local Government

Alternatives to Alternatives

Exploring New Renewable Energy Sources
Exploration and integration of non-traditional alternative energy sources and technologies in order to lower the borough's overall energy footprint.

University: Kevin Magee, president, Engineering Leadership Society
Course: Student Organization | College of Engineering
Borough: Alan Sam, Environmental Coordinator/Arborist
Sustainability Challenge: Environmental: Sustainable Energy Resource


Michele Halsell, 814-867-4578


In the media

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) has been featured in local publications in print and online. The SCC has also been featured in Penn State News.  

Penn State students work with the State College borough to promote sustainability
The Daily Collegian
An attempt at expanding the State College Composting program has led a group of Penn State students to take on the task for a class project.

Sustainable Communities Collaborative kick-off event to be held Jan. 29
Penn State News (1/20/2015)
The Sustainable Communities Collaborative at Penn State will celebrate the launch of several student-led projects at a kick-off event from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29, in the lobby of the municipal building at 243 S. Allen Street, State College. 

Penn State and Borough collaborate on sustainability (12/11/2014)
The State College Borough and Penn State Sustainability Institute are wrapping up their pilot year of their partnership.

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative Fall 2014 Closing Event Celebration
CNET (12/10/2014)
VIDEO: Penn State students present class projects from the 2014 Fall semester.

Engineering Leadership Society envisions net-zero energy future for State College
The Daily Collegian
The Engineering Leadership Society is working collaboratively with the State College Borough in an effort to explore alternative energy sources to increase energy efficiency. As part of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative initiative, this project is the only one that is a year-long versus a semester-long ordeal, Alan Sam said.

Students develop plans to mitigate storm water in public parks
The Daily Collegian
Students in Heather Gall’s Design of Storm Water and Erosion Control Facilities class — BE 467 — are collaborating with the State College Borough to investigate storm water mitigation in public parks.

Photography students documenting sustainability projects
The Daily Collegian
Associate Professor of Art Steve Rubin believes in the power of a photograph. So he decided to include a semester-long photography project for his PHOTO 402 class. They are documenting each Sustainable Communities Collaborative project with their initiative, “Capturing Images and Narratives: Sharing the SCC Story.”

Law school class hopes to resolve flooding from storm water downtown
The Daily Collegian
Through a semester-long project with the Sustainable Communities Collaborative, Fowler’s Mediation of Environmental and Public Conflicts class (SKILS 972) wants to bring storm water management problems to light.

For State College, fossil-free future in the works
The Daily Collegian (12/1/2014)
Net zero energy systems utilize renewable resources — including wind, solar and geothermal power — to recycle the energy it needs to function. As a result, net zero communities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and achieve independence from the traditional energy grid.

State College, Penn State collaborate on sustainability initiative
Centre Daily Times (5/2/2014)
The latest partnership between State College and Penn State focuses on being environmentally conscious. The 2013-14 pilot program of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative has a goal of developing a relationship between Penn State and the surrounding community in which the university’s existing courses can be used to assist sustainability projects, according to its website.

Penn State students help State College Borough go green
WJAC (4/30/2014)
State College Borough celebrated with Penn State students Tuesday after students shared a semester's worth of work on how the Borough can go a little greener. In the beginning of the semester, the Borough came to the university with its needs, which included evaluating the Borough's residential composting program and sustaining quality neighborhoods. The students presented their findings tonight.

Sustainable Communities Collaborative, Spring 2014 Student Presentations
C-Net (4/29/2014)
VIDEO: Penn State students present class projects from the 2014 Spring semester.

The Daily Collegian (2/6/2014)
Members of the community discussed volunteerism Tuesday night at a focus group at the State College Municipal Building, and a group of students present were paying particular attention. Members of Tom Hogan’s human resources ethics class acted as facilitators and took notes during the discussion. The course is a part of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative, a partnership that links courses at Penn State with the State College borough, Hogan said.

Partnership between Penn State and borough provides experience for students and solutions for community
The Daily Collegian (1/23/2014)
After only one semester, the partnership between Penn State and State College through the Sustainable Communities Collaborative, a program of Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, has already seen successes. Moving forward, both parties hope to achieve more.

Sustainable Communities: A Collaborative Human Capital Management Project
C-Net (12/12/2013)

VIDEO: Presentations by Penn State students on recruiting employees and volunteers

Town-gown relations a high priority for Penn State
Penn State News (11/21/2013)
The line between town and gown is growing thinner as Penn State University Park and State College Borough continue to partner on efforts to better community engagement. “Partnerships really help the community because we’re able to move projects and undertake activities that probably in our budget cycle we may not have been able to get to for a few years,” said Borough Manager Tom Fountaine. “We’re able to move those along on a little better timetable.”

Penn State students offer ideas for revitalization of State College West End
Centre Daily Times (10/17/2013)
Penn State students are taking a crack at ideas to improve the West End, something the borough has discussed for decades. Students in a university course are researching and developing ideas for the area between South Atherton and South Buckhout streets as part of a new partnership between State College and Penn State. The borough has identified sustainability projects to meets its goals, and Penn State students will be a resource to plan and complete them.

Environmental festival to be held Saturday
The Daily Collegian (9/27/2013)
The borough of State College, along with ClearWater Conservancy , will be hosting the 2nd annual Light Step, Right Step Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will be held on the 200 block of Allen Street and will host booths for local businesses, community groups and other organizations that participate in environmental restoration and conservation practices, said Meagan Tuttle of the State College Borough Planning Department.

Sustainable Communities Collaborative will bring green town-gown initiatives
Penn State News (9/23/2013)
The Sustainable Communities Collaborative announces a partnership with the State College Borough that will engage students at University Park with the community in a pilot program that links community-based sustainability projects with existing courses across the University. Six projects will be addressed through five Collaboration Teams in this fall’s pilot; connecting a variety of government services with academic disciplines campus wide.

Penn State and State College to partner on sustainability issues 
The Daily Collegian (8/30/2013)
The Penn State Sustainability Institute, Penn State faculty and the State College Borough are teaming up to “learn, live and lead” current students to promote sustainability in their local community. This partnership will offer students hands-on experience through Penn State courses that will correlate with borough initiatives, said Nancy Franklin, director of Programs and Partnerships at the Penn State Sustainability Institute.

On Centre: Centre Region | State College, Penn State partner to meet sustainability goals
Centre Daily Times (8/9/2013)
The borough has utilized Penn State classes to help with neighborhood planning and the rain garden project at Beaver Avenue and South Allen Street, but now the two entities will partner formally to meet sustainability goals. The borough’s Alan Sam and Penn State Sustainability Institute’s Nancy Franklin explained the program to the Borough Council Monday night. State College will work with Penn State to get the program started, and the university will partner with communities around the country and the world.