I heard that there is a community college in Summit County that has a four-year bachelor’s program in sustainability studies? What is that program exactly and how can I learn more?
— Alice, Breckenridge
We are so lucky in Summit County to be home to two Colorado Mountain College sites – one in Dillon and one in Breckenridge. Colorado Mountain College is a community college serving an area of 12,000 square miles in north-central Colorado. With more than 20,000 students in that region, CMC has a unique opportunity to provide education through place-based learning in the mountain west. In 2011, CMC rolled out its first two four-year bachelor programs. The first was a Bachelor of Arts in sustainability studies and the second was a Bachelor of Science in business administration. As a flagship campus for these programs, CMC Summit has seen consistent growth in enrollment, allowing students the opportunity to contribute to action-based learning in their community.
So what is sustainability studies exactly? The answer is as complex as our global society, but it’s not complicated. In the face of emerging social, environmental and economic challenges of our time, sustainability seeks to minimize the human impact on the planet’s environment and resources while providing the opportunity for earth’s citizens to meet their basic needs. Said another way, sustainability is about maintaining human life for generations to come. What is unique about sustainability is that it’s a holistic way of thinking that looks for the interconnections between one’s actions and the result it has on not only the environment, but also society. In the sustainability studies program at CMC, students learn to identify social, economic and environmental challenges as well as how those challenge are interrelated to one another. For example, a population’s overall heath (social challenge) is related to the types of food that they eat and have access to (economic) as well as where the food is grown (environmental). By recognizing the interconnections in a system and understanding how concepts are related, sustainability students can approach problem solving from a collaborative and creative perspective. Students also take into consideration the impact that actions today will have on future generations.
Students study a variety of theories and applications from several different academic fields including biology, ecology, history, ethics/philosophy, anthropology, international studies and more. They graduate with a knowledge of global as well as local systems, an ethic of leadership and stewardship, an understanding of green business, a commitment to social justice, and hands-on experience with community engagement. The program also allows for internship opportunities so that students can gain practical experience in the real world. Interns partner with organizations throughout Summit County to conduct research, implement projects and make recommendations based on their learning in the classroom. These invaluable experiences are not only key to a student’s success post-graduation, but also provide much needed support to organizations in the community.
As an example, CMC interns work with the High Country Conservation Center’s Summit CSA project every summer. The Summit CSA is part of HC3’s Sustainable Food Program. CSA traditionally stands for “community-supported agriculture” and means that community members buy into shares of a farm at the beginning of the growing season and share the risk of food cultivation with the farmer. The farmer grows food for 15 weeks during the summer and members pick up their shares on a weekly basis. In HC3’s case, CSA also stands for “cultivating students of agriculture” because the program involves students from CMC in the management of the farm. Student interns help the farmer to grow the food as well as conduct research to enrich the agricultural program. Student research includes compost tea organic fertilizer methods, small scale agricultural markets, high altitude growing processes, and food access for low-income residents.
CMC is a forward looking institution that recognizes their responsibility as a community college to help improve the regions in which it operates. In today’s complex, globalized world, the need for holistic thinking and problem solving is more important than ever. CMC’s Sustainability Studies program allows students to explore a variety of social, economic and environmental challenges while participating in community-based action research to find solutions. If you’re interested in learning more about earning your Bachelor of Art’s degree in sustainability studies, visit www.coloradomtn.edu. For more information about what you can do to conserve resources and contribute to the sustainability of your community, visit www.highcountryconservation.org.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.