Dr. Jerry Weber’s vision and dedication to climate solutions has engaged his students and community members. He and his colleagues have connected through issues that people care deeply about such as gainful employment. According to Dr. Weber, “At the College of Lake County we are building a greener campus toward climate neutrality. The most important achievement has been that we are doing that work by partnering with all 48 community colleges in our state through the Illinois Green Economy Network.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Join a network to increase impact - Dr. Weber and other presidents recognized that their individual schools are more powerful as a network.
- Engage through job training - IGEN provides vital services of training and re-training unemployed workers to serve citizens and strengthen the community.
- Pilot and replicate successful projects - Campuses test out renewable energy and other projects, learn best practices, and then replicate projects.
- Apply for grants together - IGEN was able to secure significant funding by joining forces to apply for funding.
- Involve students and share expertise – IGEN works with students and engages with local communities to build participation.
A group of community college presidents recognized the need for increased sustainability in campus operations and opportunities to incorporate sustainability principles throughout curriculum. They wanted to demonstrate sustainable technologies as viable options for communities. The presidents wanted to take it a step further and determine the needs in the marketplace and economy. The presidents saw ways for their institutions to serve as leaders by helping to build resilient communities.
As a result of their leadership, The Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a consortium of community colleges working to grow the green economy of Illinois, was launched in 2008. IGEN is a presidentially led organization and all community college presidents in the state have signed on. The governor got on board and the state funded a few schools. Some schools received additional funding from federal programs.
Community colleges are highly regarded for workforce training. IGEN received funding through U.S. Department of Labor to develop green career pathways – called IGEN Career Pathways - that includes 17 community colleges in a three-year effort. IGEN partner schools created the curriculum that runs the gamut of STEM careers. IGEN targeted the geographic areas most negatively affected by industries that had moved out of the state. It focused on training unemployed professionals who could be reskilled as a bridge to new careers. To engage a wider audience, Career Pathways online courses are posted on NTER Learning Platform, a national, open source, web-based program. Many colleges now offer this suite of courses.
ENGAGE STUDENTS AND STAKEHOLDERS
Campuses involve students in program outreach and implementation in various ways. Examples include through student environmental and other clubs, students’ work on GHG inventories, and volunteer internships. Students are also involved in demonstration projects. For example, IGEN is installing 15 solar projects and students are involved in site assessment, data collection, implementation, and different parts of process. IGEN keeps its stakeholders up to date with the Network News, its monthly newsletter. It contains brief articles about current initiatives and programs, updates from the network of community colleges, events, available funding, and partnering opportunities.
PILOT AND REPLICATE
The network pilots at one school and then replicates successful projects. They applied for a grant for group purchasing of energy efficiency equipment to fund retrofit lighting projects. This work saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and reduced carbon emissions. They are now installing PV systems on 15 campuses. This demonstrates the functional technologies and pushes the market forward to achieve the Illinois renewable energy standard target of 25% by 2025. As a next step, they are now looking at issues related to the water and energy nexus.
Colleges are trusted and powerful platforms for delivering messages to their communities. IGEN has demonstrated that strong progress can be achieved as a result of committed and determined leadership dedicated to building a vibrant network of college and community partners.