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Environmental Education

Local colleges create environmentally conscious curricula.

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When it comes to environmental issues, Memphis' institutions of higher education aren't just learning their lesson, they're teaching it, too.

One of just 25 recipients in the country, Memphis Bioworks has translated its $2.9 million Energy Training Partnership Grant into training programs for "green jobs" at four area colleges. The grant, awarded under the American Recovery and Re-investment Act, encourages collaboration in creating sustainable jobs, says Regina Whitley, vice president of Memphis Bioworks' marketing and communications.

"We're putting together strategic partnerships to create regional efforts," she says. "We really want to create diverse jobs for a diverse community."

Southwest Tennessee Community College, Mid-South Community College, Dyersburg State Community College, and Jackson State Community College are working with employers to update their classes and create a total of 10 different programs set to begin this fall. Each is tailored to meet the needs of an increasingly environmentally conscious world. And since the grant focuses on training dislocated and unemployed workers, local workforce investment boards and union groups such as the National Electrical Contractors Association, which will facilitate the learning of solar installation, are integral to the project's success.

"Our primary focus," says Pauline Vernon, Memphis Bioworks' director of workforce development, "is to help folks get jobs and to help them get jobs in the green economy."

Other schools are going green, too. In 2008, Rhodes College applied for a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create an Environmental Studies program, which expanded the already existing Environmental Science minor.

The program joined the already active green agenda at Rhodes, which includes a community garden and an intensive ecology field-study in the Rocky Mountains.

"We want to really use Memphis to our advantage," says Rhodes professor Jeffrey Jackson. "We're in an urban location with many environmental issues."

More recently, Rhodes increased that community-classroom interaction by creating the Cargill Community Environmental Fellowship, which will bring a member of the Memphis community to campus each year to serve as a mentor and liaison for students wishing to engage more directly with these issues. The newly named 2010-2011 recipient is Sarah Newstok, program manager for Livable Memphis. Jackson has high hopes for her term and those to follow.

"The fellows can help move students from thinking about environmental questions," he says, "to putting them into practice."

Christian Brothers University is on the road to creating its own environmental curriculum, jumpstarted with the recent creation of its Sustainabiliy Committee, a group of faculty devoted to understanding and facilitating green programs on campus.

"What it's allowed us to do is to create a map," says Paul Haught, chair of the committee and head of CBU's Religion and Philosophy Department. Green activity has already taken over both students and classes, he says, pointing to the vow taken by the graduating classes of 2009 and 2010 expressing their devotion to finding environmentally-friendly jobs, CBU's campus community garden, and the number of existing classes that will fit into the new sustainable curriculum.

"We're finding out that we really have a lot of resources already in place," Haught says. "So now we think: What can we do in terms of integrating these programs?"

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