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Sustainable Communities Collaborative

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


Past SCC Projects

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


       SCC 2014-15 Annual Report

       SCC 2013-14 Annual Report


Fall 2015 Projects

Impacts of Development on Stream Health and Trout Fishing

Students in CED 309 will create maps and other tools to help educate local leaders and the general public about the impacts of development and land use on Spring Creek Watershed and its role as an economic asset to the community.


Course: CED 309: Land Use Dynamics

Faculty: Kate Zipp, Professor

Community Partner: Judi Sittler, Spring Creek Watershed

Economic Loss Due to the Emerald Ash Borer

Students in CED 309 will estimate the loss of ash trees to the emerald ash borer, explore strategies to maximize the value of removed trees, and analyze the impact of tree loss on property values and the perceptions of public investment in tree planting.

Course: CED 309: Land Use Dynamics
Faculty: Kate Zipp, Professor
Community Partner: Alan Sam, State College Borough

Residents’ Attitudes Toward the Spring Creek Watershed

CED 475 students will design, conduct, and analyze a survey to determine residents’ awareness of Spring Creek Watershed, their knowledge and use of stream friendly behaviors, and their attitudes towards policy options which would help maintain a healthy watershed.

Course: CED 475: Integrated Capstone Experience
Faculty: Tim Kelsey, Professor
Community Partner: Judi Sittler, Spring Creek Watershed

Water Quality Monitoring of Halfmoon Creek and Buffalo Run

Students in ASM/ERM 309 will install water monitoring equipment at Halfmoon Creek and Buffalo Run to measure dissolved oxygen, water level, and rainfall. They will create technical maps of land uses in the watershed and create a comprehensive report of the water quality and land use findings.

Course: ASM/ERM 309: Measuring and Monitoring of Hydrologic Systems
Faculty: Heather Gall, Professor
Community Partner: Ann Donovan, Centre County Conservation Corps

State College Borough Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety Awareness

COMM 473 students will create a campaign to raise awareness and provide information to motorists and pedestrians of State College. The campaign will promote safety throughout the borough and enhance the borough’s reputation as a pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly community.

Course: COMM 473: Public Relations Campaigns
Faculty: Tara Wyckoff, Professor
Community Partner: Chief King and Captain Wilson, State College Police Department

Operational Traffic Performance on the Atherton St. Corridor 

Students in CE 423 will focus on the operational performance of the Atherton Street corridor from Park Avenue to Beaver Avenue. Teams will collect data at signalized intersections, such as signal timing, and create recommendations to improve vehicle travel throughout the corridor. The students will specifically discuss how their data and recommendations might influence the safety performance of the Park Ave. and Atherton St. intersection. 

Course: CE 423: Traffic Operations
Faculty: Vikash Gayah, Professor
Community Partner: Amy Kerner and Captain Wilson, State College Borough

Traffic Safety at Park Ave. and Atherton St. Intersection

Students in CE 528 will evaluate the safety Atherton St. by identifying signalized intersections of the with potential for safety improvement by applying the AASHTO Highway Safety Manual safety management process. Specifically, safety problems at the Park Ave. and Atherton St. intersection will be diagnosed by applying this framework and reviewing video data.

Course: CE 528: Transportation Safety Analysis
Faculty: Eric Donnell, Professor
Community Partner: Amy Kerner and Captain Wilson, State College Borough

Bike Path Location Evaluation

The State College Borough plans to build a bike connector path along Easterly and Westerly Parkway between the State College Area High School and Easterly Parkway Elementary. A group of students in CED 309 will analyze the best options for construction of the bike path taking into account intersecting streets and curb cuts for driveways as these impact both safety for pedestrians and cyclists as well as project costs.

Course: CED 309: Land Use Dynamics
Faculty: Kate Zipp, Professor
Community Partner: Alan Sam, State College Borough

Expansion of the Discovery Space Children’s Museum

Students in ARCH 431 will create a design for the Allen Street Civic District. Specifically, students will focus on redesigning the former Verizon Building on Allen Street to accommodate an expansion of the Discovery Space Children’s Museum and to provide a cultural and community hub for the State College Borough.

Course: ARCH 431: 4th Year Studio
Faculty: Lisa Iulo and Eric Sunderland, Professors
Community Partner: Edward LeClear, Discovery Space Children’s Museum

Human Resources Sustainability Training Modules

Students in LER 460 will create training modules for existing on onboarding employees. Relevant information will include the definition of a sustainable community, past and present sustainability initiatives of the State College Borough, and details to incorporate these initiatives into employees’ work.

Course: LER 460: Human Resource Ethics
Faculty: Tom Hogan, Professor
Community Partner: Cynthia Hanscom, State College Borough

Renewable Energy Policy Benchmarking

Students in CED 475 will determine feasible renewable energy sources for the borough to explore, research current borough rules and regulations, and make recommendations for what the borough should do to encourage greater use of renewable energy sources.

Course: CED 475: Integrated Capstone Experience
Faculty: Tim Kelsey, Professor
Community Partner: Mark Whitfield, State College Borough

Cost-Benefit Analysis of LED Street Lights

Students in PHIL 118H will use existing data about street lights in the borough  to estimate current energy use and current GHG emissions attributable to street lights, calculate the cost of switching to LED lights,estimate energy and GHG emission reductions from switching to LED lights, identify potential rebate/funding sources to help defray the cost of switching to LED's, estimate cost savings and payback.

Course: PHIL 118H: Environmental Philosophy
Faculty: Mark Sentesy, Professor
Community Partner: Alan Sam, State College Borough

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
Community Partner: State College Borough


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.  

Possible changes to State College could make it more eco-friendly
The Daily Collegian (11/5/2015)
The State College Borough is once again teaming up with Penn State students in pursuit of their common goal to make State College rise to its fullest potential.

Pedestrian safety addressed by Penn State, State College
The Daily Collegian
Since 2014, there has been three fatalities along Atherton Street. Of those three, one was Michael Eiben—a Penn State student.

Penn State students draw attention to safety issues at North Atherton/Park Avenue intersection
Centre Daily Times
A group of Penn State students took to the streets Wednesday for a project that hopes to change a borough intersection’s grim past into a safer future.

Students to hold traffic safety event after numerous fatal accidents
Onward State (10/14/2015)
A number of recent and fatal car crashes involving members of the Penn State community has inspired students enrolled in a public relations campaign course to speak out about the dangers of reckless and careless driving in State College, namely at the intersection of Atherton Street and Park Avenue.

Penn State classes work to improve traffic safety at Atherton
The Daily Collecigan
Even before the most recent student death of Michael Eiben at the intersection of Curtin Road and North Atherton Street, the State College Borough Council was well aware that changes needed to be made regarding traffic safety.

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.