A key component of the core course and of the Sustainability Semester is the Urban Sustainability Component, an intensive two-week trip based in Boston. Because environmental justice issues are an integral component in the larger context of sustainability, and because much of the world’s population lives in urban areas, we want the program’s students to understand that their experience living in a rural area – blessed with plentiful rain, rich soil and open space – is not necessarily representative of sustainable living. During the urban component our students explore critical issues such as food access, youth empowerment, and the relationship between poverty and sustainability. Lectures, discussions and hands-on opportunities with businesses, non-profits and government organizations allow students to compare and contrast sustainability issues and solutions in a rural and urban environment.
Coursework on the urban component is based on interdisciplinary experiential learning. Though specific community partners may vary in a given semester a sampling of the organizations we worked with in spring of 2013 include:
Alternatives for Community and Environment: a non-profit organization working toward environmental justice through the empowerment of low-income communities and communities of color
Recover Green Roofs: private business designing, building and maintaining vegetated roofs including those growing food (owned and operated by alumni Mark Winterer ‘02 and Brendan Shea ‘04)
Artists for Humanity: train and employ under-resourced youth in the arts in an effort to address social, economic and racial issues within their community
Massachusetts Environmental Trust: funds water quality initiatives and is part of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (alumnus Bill Hinkley’94 is the Program Director)
Union of Concerned Scientists: a non-profit organization using scientific research to partner with citizens and advocate for a sustainable future (alumnus Jeff Deyette’95 is Assistant Director of Energy Research and Analysis)
Walk Boston: a non-profit pedestrian advocacy organization working to make streets safer for walking
Clover Food Lab: a growing restaurant and food truck chain selling fast food made of healthy, vegetarian, whole food ingredients
Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs: interdisciplinary social science research on critical public policy issues
Even the location where students stay is a learning opportunity. At Hostelling International in Chinatown, a short walk from the famous Boston Common, students learn about and daily experience the features of a LEED certified building. At the hostel, a large kitchen facility allows for group cooking and a library allows for the accommodation of guest lectures. Students exclusively use public transportation to get around town for meetings with community partners and during their free time as they explore the culture of Boston.
Not only are students comparing urban and rural sustainability while in Boston. Informational interviews and conversations with St. Lawrence alumni relate to post-graduation work and their paid summer internship opportunity.