Sustainability Expo recognizes student engagement in local communities

Several hundred Penn State faculty, staff, students and community members gather to celebrate students’ semester-long engaged scholarship

Penn State's Chief Sustainability Officer Paul Shrivastava, far right, congratulates students from Tara Wyckoff's COMM 473 class on their project designing a suicide prevention campaign, which won two prizes at the Spring 2019 Campus and Community Sustainability Expo on April 25. From left are Elissa Dotzman, Alanna Powers, Katarina Vanledtje and Katherine Morris. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than three hundred Penn State students, faculty, staff and community members came together on April 25 for the biannual Campus and Community Sustainability Expo at the State College Borough Building, sharing the outcomes of a semester’s worth of comprehensive and impactful engaged scholarship. The expo is the denouement of the Sustainability Institute’s Sustainable Communities Collaborative (SCC), which facilitates partnerships between Penn State classes and local community partners to develop projects that improve the region’s sustainability. 

At this semester’s expo, participants learned about 41 projects by students in 13 courses who provided research and design ideas for 33 municipal, campus and non-profit community partners. This semester also represented the first time the SCC program expanded to include both freshmen classes and graduate students from Penn State’s School of Law, as well as having students consult for a for-profit partner.

At the evening’s program, Michael Walsh, deputy secretary for administration in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, congratulated students on their research and the difference they are making in communities within Pennsylvania. 

“I couldn’t be more impressed with what I have seen here tonight,” Walsh said. “The work that these students are doing in partnership with communities around the state has real potential to make a big different for those communities. My message today to the students is: Thank you for what you are doing [and] thank you for your interest in sustainability. We as a state government look forward to partnering with you because we are committed to reducing our carbon footprint and saving money.”

During the expo, students had the opportunity to present research posters to Penn State faculty and staff as well as to their student peers and many interested community members. Indeed, State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine began the evening’s ceremonial portion by noting just how many public officials were present and eager to hear the students’ recommendations, including several members of the State College Borough council, members of the Ferguson Township council and Mayor Don Hahn of State College Borough.

Beyond the chance to explain their work, students also had the opportunity to be recognized for prizes, selected by a panel of judges, in two categories — one for posters that most effectively communicated teams’ research processes and recommendations, and one for projects that were deemed most likely to have an immediate impact in helping community partners achieve their sustainability goals.

The Spring 2019 prize winners are:

Poster Awards:

1st Place (tie): Global Links – SECS Design Project

  • Faculty lead: Jeffrey Brownson, EGEE 437
  • Community partner: Pennsylvania Solar Center

1st Place (tie): The Paramount Building Solar Design

  • Faculty lead: Jeffrey Brownson, EGEE 437
  • Community partner: Pennsylvania Solar Center

2nd Place: Suicide Prevention Campaign

  • Faculty lead: Tara Wyckoff, COMM 473
  • Community partner: Mount Nittany Health

3rd Place (tie): Walnut Springs Wetland Evaluation

  • Faculty lead: Lauren Phillips, CE/ABE 597
  • Community partner: State College Borough

3rd Place (tie): Muddy Run

  • Faculty lead: Megan Marshall, BE 460/466
  • Community partner: Huntingdon Borough

Greatest Impact Awards:

1st Place: Suicide Prevention Campaign

  • Faculty lead: Tara Wyckoff, COMM 473
  • Community partner: Mount Nittany Health

2nd Place: Baldwin Saxbys 

  • Faculty lead: Karen Winterich, BA 442
  • Community partner: Saxbys Cafe

3rd Place: Arts Festival Succession Planning

  • Faculty lead: Tom Hogan, LER 460
  • Community partner: Central Pennsylvania Arts Festival

Students in Tara Wyckoff’s Public Relations Campaign course were honored with their double win and said it felt great to be recognized for their hard work.

“We’ve worked all semester on this project and every single person in our team has contributed to the success of it,” said students Kate Morris and Lauren Dattilo. “It feels so rewarding to have won because it is such a crucial topic that is affecting many people in Centre County. We learned so much through our research that has helped us to gain better insight on mental health and suicide.”

Students in the team from BE 466: Muddy Run project team were pleased with their third-place win.

“It was an amazing learning experience and a lot of work, so it feels great to be recognized,” Laura Lutes explained.

Her team focused on restoration of the Muddy Run Stream, which is a “blue line” stream running through Huntington Borough. The team recognized that the stream needs to be redesigned to convey and withstand high-intensity storm events and recommended reconnecting the existing channel to the floodplain to reduce sediment loading. 

"We have noticed robust growth of SCC projects, not only quantitatively but qualitatively," concluded Ilona Ballreich, coordinator of the SCC. "Students' work is informing our community partners to take next steps and make better decisions moving forward. It is gratifying to see more strategic partnerships with community organizations where Penn State students can provide research to advance sustainability regionally."

About the Sustainable Communities Collaborative 

The Sustainable Communities Collaborative works to facilitate partnerships between Penn State classes and community partners seeking help to advance their sustainability goals. Students have the opportunity to engage in applied, real-world research benefiting communities that otherwise lack the time, resources, or expertise to undertake initial steps on their projects. The student projects do not replace the work of professionals, but act as a catalyst to begin new work. 

Last Updated June 21, 2019