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"Sustainability will be an important peg on which we hang the expansion of experiential learning at Penn State, encouraging our students to positively impact the communities they touch."
Vice President, Student Affairs

Sustainable Communities

Program Overview

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC) is the University’s strategic platform and opportunity to develop innovative University/community-based collaborations that engage PSU faculty and students in existing courses from across the University through real world, community-identified sustainability projects.
Through the SCC, Penn State will initially partner with selected communities in Pennsylvania to meet their sustainability goals.  These community entities may include government, business, schools, non-profits, and other organizations. 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 and the scholarship of sustainability.


2013-2014 Sustainable Community Partner - State College Borough

State College Borough has been named the 2013-2014 Sustainable Community Partner for the pilot program.

Sustainable Communities partnerships are formed through agreements developed between the top local government official and the Sustainability Institute to link community-based sustainability projects with existing courses across the university.  Projects are identified and developed based on the partnering community’s sustainability priorities.

Collaboration Teams bring together community representatives, faculty and students to define and carry-out projects.

The following projects connect a variety of government services with academic disciplines campus wide.

Current Projects

Management of Human Capital (Talent Acquisition) Part 2
Sustainable Communities Collaborative celebrates kick off of spring projectsFollow-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: State College Sustainability Committee; Department of Public Works, Environmental Coordinator - Alan Sam 

Sustainable Asset Mgmt (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

Biking and Tourism in the Region
Collaboration Team will investigate bicycling and tourism for State College with faculty from Recreation Parks Tourism Management seeking to generate areas of study. Concept areas uncovered will be presented to students in Professor Hunt’s course as a potential for student semester projects, developed with guidance from Professor Hunt in meeting the course requirements.
Faculty: Dr. Carter Hunt, Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, College of Health and Human Development
Course: RPTM 497 - Social and Environmental Sustainability
Community Collaborator: Clay Chiles, Administration Department, Ameri-Corp Volunteer 

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

Future Projects for 2014-15

Previous 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


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 

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 CollaboratorAnne Messner, Planning Department 


How It Works

The Sustainability Institute’s SCC program will take the administrative lead and draw from a broad base of faculty members who have an interest in community engagement. The SCC will assume responsibility for establishing contact with prospective community partners and will cultivate those partnerships once established.

The partnering community leaders will identify a set of projects that contribute to advancing their sustainability goals. These projects must be part of the community’s strategic agenda and are then matched with existing PSU courses that include an experiential learning element. Faculty-led student teams work on the identified projects as part of their coursework. This approach takes advantage of fresh student energy and perspectives in addressing challenging community issues.

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.

Academic Courses

We are currently developing a required one-credit seminar course, with curriculum modules that will address project orientation, civic engagement, sustainability perspectives, leadership, public scholarship, and research. This course will be offered each semester to run concurrently with the project-based courses.

Additionally, an optional one-credit peer-mentoring course will be available to students who wish to extend their participation in the SCC program following their initial course/project semester.

Students may also enroll in a variable-credit research course during the semester immediately following their SCC course or immediately following their mentorship semester. This option will be available to students who wish to produce and publish their undergraduate research.


Project impacts will be evaluated through pre- and post-project faculty and student assessments. These assessments will be administered at the beginning and end of each course-project semester. Community partners will also be asked to participate in project impact 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, how a sustainability project-based course may affect the way faculty teach, and long-term funding possibilities for these projects.

Sustainability Competencies

We are at a point in time when sustainability challenges are mounting. There is growing evidence that current trends in resource consumption, economic development, and population expansion are unsustainable. Institutions of higher education must effectively engage today’s societal issues at a local level and provide students with applied practice that grounds them in the complexities of problem-solving.

We see an opportunity to draw upon the highly successful sustainability engagement programs at other universities, such as the Sustainable City-Year Program at the University of Oregon, the Archway Partnership Program at the University of Georgia, and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnership program at the University of Minnesota. The program is designed as a University-wide integrative, problem-solving project that embraces a transformative approach to educating for sustainability, designing for reciprocity and collaboration, and building equitable, accessible, and beneficial partnerships.

Future Role

The SCC envisions two models of community engagement: the Community Partnership Model (CPM), and the Higher Education Partnership Model (HEPM). The CPM involves a direct relationship with the SCC and the partnering community and targets PA communities as well as possible communities in other countries.

The HEPM is a variation of the CPM and is intended to leverage the CPM on a broader basis through replication in other higher education institutions across PA and in countries partnering with the Sustainability Institute.

The HEPM draws upon Penn State’s multi-campus presence in Pennsylvania to expand the footprint and impact of the SCC. Additionally; the HEPM may be of interest to the Pennsylvania Environmental Research Consortium (PERC) to further expand the SCC through a multitude of other public and private institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania and would be implemented through a train-the-trainer model.



SCC 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. 

Watch a video on the Sustainable Communities Collaborative below.  

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.
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.
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 
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.