By Robert Leitner
Eight Rider students worked with the Lawrence Green Team and other local sustainability-based organizations in a successful effort to earn Lawrence Township a silver Sustainable Jersey certification.
Sustainable Jersey is a nonprofit organization that supports municipalities and their sustainability programs by tracking related efforts through a points system.
Previously, Lawrence Township received four bronze-level certifications. To receive a silver certification, criteria is set that judges municipalities on their sustainability efforts and awards points based on each action they complete. Lawrence Township exceeded the minimum requirement of 350 points and fulfilled 35 actions in 11 categories.
The students’ efforts were guided by Brooke Hunter, an American history professor who also teaches courses in environmental history, in addition to the sustainability capstone the past two years.
“The capstone integrates everything the students have learned in all of their courses,” said Hunter. “Sustainable Jersey certification presented a great opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and skills in a real-world setting.”
Senior sociology major Lexi Reynolds said the real-world experience was vital to her education.
“I learned a lot from this experience, about the Sustainable Jersey program itself, how projects take place at the township level and the reality of juggling community development with full-time work for most of the people involved in creating these initiatives in Lawrence,” said Reynolds.
One of Reynolds’ tasks was to facilitate the move of Mercer County’s existing Green Fair to Rider, which completed one of the Sustainable Jersey requirements to host a green fair in the township.
“These kinds of projects outside of the classroom are really what made the sustainability studies program invaluable to my college experience, and I encourage others to get involved with opportunities like this during their time at Rider,” she said.
Prior capstone seminars for sustainability minors were campus-based projects. In 2014, the capstone project focused on advocating for Rider’s energy-saving Trigeneration plant.
Former Lawrence Township Mayor Pam Mount, who is now involved with the township’s Sustainable Jersey recertification, agreed to help get the project approved.
Students started by researching Lawrence Township’s sustainability efforts and comparing those efforts to other townships that received a silver certification.
It was an enormous amount of work, Hunter explained. One of the things students noted when reviewing other townships was how many had full-time staff devoted to sustainability efforts.
Next, students worked to document the actions taken by Lawrence Township and created reports to prove they were completed.
“I think one of the most valuable learning experiences for them was the process of trying to collect this evidence and navigating roadblocks,” Hunter said. “The requirements make it look easy, but the process was more difficult.”
Beyond the regular classroom meetings, during which Hunter guided students through the project, students attended town hall meetings, met with various other sustainability groups and went into Lawrenceville to document actions.
“My favorite part of the experience was being able to get involved with the local community,” said Reynolds. “Attending the Living Local Expo with my class, I got to see how the event came together, and with the class survey, I was able to understand how attendees were gaining great information and ideas from the program.”
Once the sustainability requirements were completed, students wrote their final report for Lawrence Township.
To help with future certifications, students created a plan of action for the next three years. The plan explained what actions needed to be done for each upcoming year to maintain silver certification.
Projects that engage students within the community serve a dual purpose. In this case, the project gave students real-life experiences working on a sustainability initiative, and it also helps solidify the relationship between Rider and its surrounding community.
“These kinds of projects, where Rider partners with local communities and works to better the lives of students and citizens, are important,” said Hunter. “It shows that Rider is not separate from the community, but a valued and contributing member of the community.”