Strategic Initiatives Proposal:
Interactive Educational Outreach

Emily Dodd, Stephen Trowbridge, Bobbi Chase, Sarah Hobart, and Joshua Brown, EcoLogic
Contact: Stephen A. Trowbridge x2284

Introduction:

EcoLogic, A Student Pugwash Project, is Rensselaer's environmental student group and the founder of the Greening of Rensselaer Initiative (GRI). With the strong support of the SISC in the past two years, the GRI has developed into a thriving program, with a successful recycling program, Environmental Education Center, garden, and research efforts in water conservation and recycling (see Appendix A). We now propose to build upon past successes with two new programs: Student-Led Environmental Education and the creation of a Rensselaer Science Shop.

Many students at Rensselaer are interested in environmental issues, but they are unclear about the specifics of problems and what they can do to help. At the same time, some students are knowledgeable about such issues and are interested in educating others. Through this Student-Led Environmental Education program, a core group of students would put together a comprehensive curriculum covering a variety of current environmental issues and relating them to local, everyday actions that we can take to help solve them. The science shop will provide an opportunity for students to learn about pressing environmental issues within the Troy-Rensselaer community and to work on resolving those problems. We will draw on the resources already existing on campus including the Environmental Education Center, garden, and recycling program in developing these programs.


The goals of these programs are twofold: first, to educate students on the environmental issues that will be critical in the coming decades. Hopefully, they will bring this awareness to their future careers. Second, to pilot innovative teaching/learning techniques where students teach their peers, individuals cooperate across different academic disciplines, and current real world problems are addressed.

The concept of science shops originated in the Netherlands, where they now form an integral part of the Dutch university structure. A science shop is a university sponsored program which provides advice, consulting and research on questions raised by community groups or individuals for minimal or no cost. The science shop will serve as an intermediary between research requests brought forth by the public and the academic resources of Rensselaer. (Some local organizations likely to utilize the Rensselaer Science Shop are included in Appendix B.) The science shop will provide students at Rensselaer with an interdisciplinary and interactive education, combined with the experience of tackling real world problems and the satisfaction of a public service internship. The science shop will also provide a great service to the people of Troy and surrounding communities, by addressing their needs and proposing solutions to problems that might otherwise remain unresolved due to a lack of resources. The science shop will provide a continuous and dynamic source for interdisciplinary research projects on issues of importance and concern to the general public such as cities, water, transportation, pollution, and development.

Student-Led Environmental Education:

This class is to be an interdisciplinary program examining in-depth critical environmental issues and their everyday solutions. We will be able to attract students from any discipline who would like to learn some environmental basics. There will be lectures, guest speakers, discussions, field trips, small group work and 2 or 3 hands-on outreach projects. Field trips and interactive experiences envisioned include trips to the campus garden and greenhouse, excursions to local places of interest (materials recovery facilities, etc...). The outreach projects would involve working with local public schools to present information on similar topics to younger students (elementary through high school, depending on the interest). This course would be taught in the spring, and prepared for in the fall. The core group of 5 teachers would receive 4 credits each term through the Undergraduate Research Program. Students registered for the course would receive 4 credits of 200 level interdisciplinary environmental. The class will be open to about 20 students.

Within each topic, there will be information presented from a variety of perspectives, including the science behind the topic, the engineering technology used to control it, and the social issues that surround the situation. For example, the topic of discussion might be resource depletion/high rates of consumption. The class would look at the social choices that have created this situation, the options for control, such as reuse of materials, recycling, and reduction of excess, the technology necessary, the science behind it, the economics of the choices (what is cost effective?), what the infrastructure would have to be to facilitate the changes, and how to persuade members of our society that change would be in their interests. These are only a sampling of the possibilities. Actual curriculum would, of course, be addressed on a year to year basis by the students preparing to teach the course based on their individual interests and available resources. Both professors on campus and the Greening of Rensselaer program would be used as resources.

Clearly, the students involved with developing the class the first year will work closely with those professors who currently teach environmental courses at Rensselaer. Professors Carl McDaniel, John Schumacher, and Steve Breyman will be consulted during the developmental stages to ensure that the material of the student-led class does not overlap with topics covered in established courses, such as First Year Environmental Seminar, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Environment and Development, Environmental Politics and Policy, and One Mile of the Hudson. The proposed class will have a different emphasis from the aforementioned courses, in that it will focus on local and individual actions which can have an impact on large-scope environmental aspects. Environmental issues are so numerous and diverse that, as long as all of those involved in teaching classes work together, there is no danger of overlapping or running out of pertinent material which deserves in-depth consideration.

After the first year of operation, this program would be self-sustaining. The start-up funding for books and videos will only be needed the first year. As the resources for the class need to be updated, the student-led class will be able to rely on the Environmental Education Center for support. This is a truly exciting prospect, as it will demonstrate that a program previously funded through Strategic Initiatives, which has become self-sustaining, can reach beyond its initial function and aid a new project in becoming self-sustaining as well. We will also seek assistance from relevant departments (Science and Technology Studies, Biology, Economics, etc.) to cover costs of future needs. Student teachers would only be paid the first summer and fall semester, due to the extra time and commitment needed to organize and develop this new class. In subsequent years, teachers would simply receive credit for preparing the class in the fall and teaching it in the spring. Ideally, students who take the course will become the teachers in subsequent years.

This class would be a great asset to Rensselaer in that its innovative teaching strategies would attract new students who are interested in taking an active part in their education, and build Rensselaer's reputation in the academic community as an educational institute on the forefront of interactive education.

Environmental Science Shop:

Critical infrastructures for the 21st century such as cities, water, and transportation must be directly addressed by Rensselaer if it is to continue to be a highly respected institution into the next century. These issues must be dealt with directly through practical application of innovative multidisciplinary thinking and research. To successfully implement change scientists and engineers must also learn how to function effectively within the social and political context of society. The implementation of an science shop at Rensselaer will make great strides toward the realization of the aforementioned goals.

The science shop will call upon and coordinate the expertise and research capabilities of faculty and students from all schools of the institute. Support from the professional societies at Rensselaer will provide networks of valuable resources, and program recognition beyond the boundaries of the institute. The Rensselaer chapter of the Water Environment Federation, the professional society for environmental and waste water engineers, has committed to provide technical assistance and professional resources.

Critical infrastructures can be rigorously explored and developed through the fields of expertise represented at Rensselaer. Rensselaer's capabilities coupled with the pertinent needs of Troy and surrounding communities create the ideal setting for a science shop program. The science shop will undoubtedly be faced with the critical and compelling issues of our local environment. Developing strategies to resolve these local issues and needs will not only benefit our local communities but will potentially have national or international pertinence.

The unique and innovative nature of a science shop program, particularly in the United States, will bring increased recognition to Rensselaer in both public and academic spheres, at the national and international level. The science shop will attract new students and reinforce the institute's place at the forefront of technical innovation and excellence.

Undergraduate students participating in the science shop program could do so for credit through the Undergraduate Research Program. The science shop may also provide a source for capstone design projects that would actually be implemented. Graduate students might take on one or more related requests made to the science shop as their thesis project.

The science shop will help build better relations between the institute and our surrounding communities. The individuals who participate in the science shop program are provided a rare opportunity to make a major contribution to their community as a part of their professional or academic workload. The entire Troy-Rensselaer community will benefit from the resolution of issues brought forth to the science shop and the new found spirit of cooperation.

We are requesting funding to facilitate the start-up of the Rensselaer Science Shop program. After one year the program should be self-sufficient, through the use of federal grants and local fund raising efforts. The first director would work to obtain grants from organizations including: The Jennifer Altman Foundation, Ben and Jerry's Foundation, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Educational Foundation of America, the Energy Foundation and the Ford Foundation, as well as federal grants for programs fostering university-community cooperation.

Benchmarking:

Our success can be measured in many ways. Student enrollment and satisfaction (as evidenced by end of semester course evaluations) will provide tangible estimations of the success of the class. Another mark of success will be continued student interest in teaching the class. Within the first year, success of the science shop will be measured by acquisition of office space, participation of faculty and students at Rensselaer, community initiated projects, and receipt of funding from outside sources.

Relevance to Strategic Initiatives:

The Greening of Rensselaer has made considerable contributions to the goals of the SISC. The proposed class and science shop program will enlarge and extend the scope of the interactive education initiatives by using real-life environmental problems to facilitate student learning. In the class, interactive education engages students by making them the teachers. The science shop directly relates to building critical infrastructures for the 21st century, recognizing that only through full cooperation will Rensselaer and the Troy both truly prosper.

Rensselaer has the potential to make major contributions not only in the recognition of environmental problems, but also in proposing sound scientific and technical solutions to them. Solid waste disposal, waste treatment, energy use, and sound environmental practices are critical infrastructure issues that must be addressed in planning for the future of municipalities and regions. Issues of this scope cannot be sufficiently addressed within one discipline, but require students to move through and across disciplines, to understand technical, scientific, behavioral, political and economic limitations as well.

Budget:

Student Led Education:
Books for Teachers $2000
- text books
- teaching aids
- pertinent literature


Videos for Class (purchase and rent)......... $2000
- "Witness to the Future"
- etc.

 
Field Trips $100
- local materials recovery facility
- Cornell Cooperative Extension
- state legislature
- etc.
(funds to reimburse for gas from private vehicle use; administrative costs (admission, etc.))

 
Summer Assistantship & Fall URP $4000
(students who will teach class in Spring)

- Summer Assistantship (1 or 2)  $2000
- Fall URP (5)  $2000

 
Photocopying $500
- class materials
- preparatory materials
 

Environmental Science Shop:
Director's Salary $16000
- full time position
(full time, fixed term, non-exempt)
 
Human Resources Benefits for director
$4900
   
Telecommunications $500
- phone
- long distance
 
Educational Materials $2000
- publications
- printing
 
Postage
$250
   
Computer $1500
   
TOTAL FUNDING REQUESTED
$33,750

Appendix A

Progress of 1996 Strategic Initiative Grant

The Water Conservation Initiative has enjoyed a great deal of success, owing to both its appeal to Rensselaer Administration and to students across disciplines. Among the successes we have enjoyed in the first 8 months are the following:

The Water Conservation Initiative has established itself as a constructive and reasonable addition to Rensselaer. It is making significant contributions to both infrastructural planning for resource utilization in the 21st century and to interactive education, framing multi-disciplinary research projects for students interested in making an environmental contribution.


Progress of 1995 Strategic Initiative Grant

Appendix B

Organizations Likely to Utilize the Rensselaer Science Shop:Albany County Land Trust


Adirondack Council
Adirondack Mountain Club
Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission
Albany, Schenectady, Greene County Agricultural and Historic Society, Inc.
American Civil Liberties Union
Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks
Capital Area for Alternatives to Pesticides
Capital District Citizen Action
Capital District Community Gardens
Capital District Community Loan Fund
Capital District Greens
Center for Change Coalition on Social Action
Citizens' Campaign for the Environment
Citizens' Environmental Coalition
Citizens Concerned about national Lead
Economic Conversion Coalition of the Upper Hudson
Environmental Advocates
Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady
Habitat for Humanity of the Capital District
Homeless Action Committee
Junior Museum
Knolls Action Project
March 19th Coalition
Nassau Union of Concerned Citizens
National Audubon Society
New York Bicycling Coalition
New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
New York Parks Conservation Associates
New York Public Interest Research Group
North River Friends of Clearwater
Open Space Institute
Peace Action
Regional Farm and Food Project
Rensselaer County Environmental Management Council
Rensselaer County Historical Society
Rensselaer County Soil and Water Conservation District
Rensselaer-Taconic Land Conservancy
Save the Pine Bush
Sierra Club
Social Justice Center
The Nature Conservancy
Twin Rivers Council
Voice of the Children
20/20 Vision