Students and Partners Share Perpsectives on SCP

By Mackenzie Burke, OSI Intern

Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) course projects welcome college students into conversations with city and community partners to address real life challenges facing communities today. Interviews with students and partners from last semester highlight many of the unique benefits of this collaboration. For many students, last semester’s experiences gave them a new sense of voice and autonomy in the classroom and beyond.  For SCP’s partners, students’ work helped them move forward important sustainability goals through critical perspectives and creative solutions.

Biology of Global Health senior, Brittany Krebsbach shares, “This was a student led project that showed me how to initiate. It was a true test of my ability, how much I knew, and how to use my resources.” This distinct opportunity was a call for leadership and collaboration for many students like Brittany. She elaborates, “I gained a lot of confidence in personal projects and group projects because this was an actual application of our learning, it wasn’t just for a grade.”

Business Marketing senior, Gabby Zehrer, believes collaboration with her community partner transformed her learning experience last semester. “You get to see different viewpoints on how people are trying to achieve a goal. Everyone took on personal responsibility and their own role in finding a solution.” Gabby said she and her classmates held each other accountable for the work they were doing with their community partner. Gabby adds, “I think it was the first project where I feel like I was actually making a difference. My education was being applied and people outside of the classroom were really listening.”

Marnie Sciamanda, a senior in Environmental Science, also spoke to the unique benefits of working with a community partner. For her, last semester’s experience exposed the nuances of how an organization becomes more sustainable. She says, “It made me realize it’s a lot more complex than you might think it is. It’s easy to think of ways to be sustainable, but when you have to problem solve to implement that, it’s not always easy. You can see why a city has to adapt to parameters like budget, resources, and capacity of staff when trying to initiate change.” The moving pieces, scales and limitations, and unanswered questions of an organization are oftentimes omitted from everyday classroom conversations. For Marnie, exposure to how an organization operates not only allowed for real-world application of learning but also was necessary in order to ask questions and discover potential solutions.

For many of the city and community partners, working with college students was new territory. As it turns out, this new territory offered many unique benefits. Thomas Hertzog from Tiny Footprint Coffee pointed out, “College students aren’t the regular demographic to partner with. They brought in an entirely ew perspective. They brought forth creative ideas that haven’t been applied by other businesses we’ve partnered with before and they didn’t let a lot of typical hurdles prevent their ideas.”

Deírdre Coleman from Freshwater Society spoke to the value of students’ critical perspectives and helpful questions that reshape how they view the work they do. She says, “By working with students who are coming from all sorts of backgrounds in schooling and having them say ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘Why do you need this?’ helps us understand what we aren’t getting across. This helps us grow from the inside out.”

Kristin Mroz with Elk River watched college students become powerful educators on their class projects, “By the end of the semester, they are the ones teaching me and coming up with new ideas on how to address a problem. They understand our community’s needs and are able to make this project into something that directly addresses those needs without that much guidance from me.” She also noted that this transformation from student to educator didn’t stop in the classroom. She notes, “They start to look at things differently in their own communities because they have a better understanding of what is happening in our city.”

Community partners all spoke to the value in working with college students, for they will likely be co-workers or collaborators in creating a more sustainable world. Sustainability is urgent, it is interdisciplinary, it is intergenerational, it applies to every person and every geographical space. Not only did partners see great organizational benefit from this unique partnership, but they also saw this work as an investment in our future. These projects and these partnerships proved that everyone has a stake in creating a more sustainable world, and today’s students have a voice alongside our cities and community organizations in making that come to life.