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Building Sustainable Communities

Posted on January 11th, 2011
IIHR Associate Research Scientist Craig Just (center) with members of the UI's Sustainability Living-Learning Community.

IIHR Associate Research Scientist Craig Just (center) with members of the UI’s Sustainability Living-Learning Community.

IIHR Research Engineer Craig Just says his students inspired him to live more sustainably. Now, he wants to return the favor.

Just is part of a team that was recently awarded an $873,318 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) program to help inspire and educate a new generation of students about sustainability. Just and the team will use the grant to create sustainability-focused living-learning communities for first-year college students at universities across the country.

Just, who is also an adjunct assistant professor in the UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is teaming up with researchers at the UI, Columbia University, and the National Geographic Society to design, implement, evaluate, and disseminate a blueprint for campus living-learning communities. Just says that the ultimate goal is to educate students in the concepts of sustainability, and to help them develop the skills to create change in a democratic society.

“This represents a massive national opportunity to shape sustainability living-learning communities on hundreds of campuses,” Just says. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how it unfolds.”

His own journey toward living more sustainably started when he was in his 30s, Just says. “[I was] inspired by students who demanded to be taught new things, in new ways,” he explains. “The students gave me a starting point toward sustainability. Now I need to step up and facilitate student learning and community engagement to help shape the sustainable citizens of the future.”

Just adds, “My fate and the fate of my children and grandchildren rests in the hands of these sustainable citizens, so I want them to be well equipped.”

The UI Sustainability Living-Learning Community (SLLC), based in the Mayflower Residence Hall, has about 40 student participants in its first year. “It’s part of an expanding program here on campus,” Just says. “The Living-Learning Community will be a core target for the curriculum and learning activities ¼ with the idea then of being able to present a model for sustainability living-learning communities that other campuses could adopt.”

Next year, a dissemination workshop will reach beyond the UI campus to students at the University of Northern Iowa, with more workshops planned for the third year. Ultimately, as many as 5,000 students may be reached by the off-campus workshops, with the potential for even more student participants by the end of the project.

Working with the National Geographic Society, researchers at Columbia University will create a curriculum (“Sustainability Dilemmas”) that can be transplanted to campuses across the country. With the nonpartisan National Issues Forums Institute, the UI team will develop sustainability issues books to promote the creation of democratic dialogue-based forums within the living-learning communities.

Other UI team members include: Carolyn Colvin, College of Education; Jean Florman, Center for Teaching; Don Yarbrough, Center for Evaluation and Assessment; and Mayflower Residence Hall staff, University Housing and Dining.

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