Universities and Community Engagement for a Sustainable Community

By Alicia H. Sprow and Spencer S. Stober.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Education

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Environmental education at all levels is essential in our efforts to sustain the environment for future generations. Universities are uniquely qualified to lead in these efforts. This paper posits that research and teaching can no longer be created in a vacuum, but must be practically applied to address the wide variety of needs in the surrounding community. Universities have a moral responsibility to become more environmentally and socially sustainable, and to this end they need to play a vital role within their communities. This paper describes efforts by a university (Alvernia University, Reading, PA, USA) in partnership with a local community and its many stakeholders to develop an environmental education center and wetland habitat. The University mission, its expectations for scholarship, teaching and service, were all important considerations throughout this community-based project. Educational theory, pedagogy, and current ideas that inform the practice of community engagement are discussed. A typology is proposed to differentiate various forms of community engagement such as service-learning, community-based projects and research. To conclude, practical suggestions for successful community engagement endeavors are discussed as they relate to this project, including community relationships and the political process.

Keywords: Sustainability, Community Engagement, Service Learning, Community-based Research, Environmental Education

International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.91-100. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 765.112KB).

Dr. Alicia H. Sprow

Doctoral Graduate Assistant, Ph.D. Program in Leadership, Alvernia University, Reading, PA, USA

Alicia H. Sprow is a doctoral candidate at Alvernia University. Prior to returning to school to pursue her doctorate in Educational Leadership, Ms. Sprow was an environmental education administrator and has been involved in the environmental education field for over 15 years. Ms. Sprow has taught undergraduate-level courses in psychology, including learning and instruction, basic research methods, and developmental psychology, and assisted graduate students with their quantitative master’s theses projects. Her research interests include environmental and social sustainability and community engagement at higher education institutions. Ms. Sprow has presented at state and national conferences on sustainability and community engagement. Under the direction of Dr. Spencer Stober, Ms. Sprow’s doctoral work involves examining faculty-student interactions within community-based projects and the role such interactions play in students’ leadership development and community and institutional engagement. As part of her graduate assistantship, Ms. Sprow coordinates a multi-partner community project that involves developing and managing an urban environmental education center.

Dr. Spencer S. Stober

Professor of Biology, Director of the Center for Ethics and Leadership, Graduate Studies, Alvernia University, Reading, PA, USA

Dr. Spencer S. Stober is a Professor of Biology, and Director of the Center for Ethics and Leadership at Alvernia University in Reading, Pennsylvania, US. He has taught Biology for 30 years including undergraduate course in Genetics, Botany and Environmental Science. Since earning his doctorate at Temple University, with a specialization in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, he teaches graduate courses in education and leadership. In 2005 he received Alvernia’s Christian R. & Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching. Dr. Stober has also served in a number of key administrative positions at Alvernia College, including Department Chairperson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, and Dean of Graduate and Continuing Studies. His research interests include environmental sustainability, and the intersection between religion and science. He publishes regularly in the International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability. Dr. Stober recently coauthored a book with Dr. Donna Yarri, Associate Professor of Theology at Alvernia University, entitled God, Science, and Designer Genes: An Exploration of Emerging Issues in Genetic Technologies, published by Praeger in 2009. They are also working on a second book forthcoming in 2013, God, Darwin, and the Origins of Life, Mercer University Press.