Strengthening community and campus relations through sustainability

By Matthew J. Long
July 01, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Last month, a panel on the Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC), a program of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State, was held at the International Town & Gown Association's (ITGA) City and University Relations Conference at University Park. Hosted by Ilona Ballreich, SCC program manager, the panel addressed how a university can provide resources to a local community to help solve local issues.

ITGA is a non-profit organization that helps facilitate partnerships between a university and the surrounding community, including businesses, local governments and other charitable organizations. Once a year, it holds its City and University Relations Conference at a different venue; this year it was held at State College, where the SCC has been known for building university-community relationships for the past five years. 

The panel, titled "The Sustainable Communities Collaborative: A Model for Applying University Expertise to Local Challenges and Priorities," was held on May 21 in the HUB-Robeson Center on campus. At the panel, Ballreich described her work with the SCC, its mission and the projects they have done to benefit the State College community.

“We find a problem within a community and provide students with the opportunity to begin researching the issue through university courses. Students lay the groundwork for new projects to be completed by community partners," said Ballreich.

Since 2012, 198 projects have been completed at the University Park campus, starting with two projects in the 2012-13 academic year and increasing to 58 projects the 2018-19 academic year. The collaborations involve a wide variety of topics and majors, and have included projects such as implementing a program that encourages outdoor exploration, developing backup power solutions for those with disabilities, and installing solar-powered water quality monitoring stations in Bald Eagle State Park. 

Along with Ballreich, Tom Hogan, professor of human resource management; Alan Sam, environmental coordinator for the State College Borough; and Peter Boger, assistant director for outreach and engagement at the Penn State Sustainability Institute, attended the panel and provided insight on the various Penn State-State College partnerships. Following Ballreich’s presentation, the panel held an active question-and-answer session with the audience. According to Boger, the audience was “very engaged with the panel."

Aside from the projects at University Park, the SCC also facilitated a total of 28 projects at the Abington, Altoona, Beaver, Behrend, Brandywine and Hazleton campuses, in an effort to grow larger and support the commonwealth.

“As a land-grant university, we have an obligation to serve the needs of Pennsylvania, its students and communities and to bring more sustainable practices to the state," said Ballreich.

Last Updated September 20, 2019