Grand Rapids Community College Gets Greener

June 18, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — In the next few months Grand Rapids Community College will add a lot of green to its school colors of blue and gold.

Following a 17-year affiliation with the Center for Environmental Study (CES), the college is joining a national environmental consortium and will begin implementing a series of proactive environmental programs and policies, as well as offering new classes focusing on environmental subjects that are designed to have a direct impact on students, faculty and the community. “We are beyond the experimental stages and into the development stages,” said Gary Burbridge, associate provost and dean of the college of arts and sciences for GRCC.

“Grand Rapids Community College has been a leader on environmental issues for several years, and now is our opportunity to put what we have learned into action on campus and in our classrooms,” said GRCC president, Juan Olivarez. “We will start by offering courses focused on environmental sustainability and working with other institutions, such as the University of Michigan, to provide special partnership degree programs in this area.”

The CES, which is a separate 501-C3 (non-profit tax status) organization, will continue its work in the community. Bill Stough, interim chair of the CES board of trustees, said the affiliation with the college has been beneficial.

“Our affiliation with Grand Rapids Community College has been of tremendous value for us and for the college,” Stough said. “As the college concentrates on translating what we have learned to students, in the future the Center for Environmental Study will dedicate its resources to a broader range of community environmental projects.”

Olivarez said the college has committed more than two years to taking the best lessons of the CES and using those to develop this new plan of action. College leadership tapped the community to help shape its “greener” agenda by gathering input from more than 30 individuals involved in environmental issues, including representatives from the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and the CES board.

The college currently lists two environmental studies classes through its College of Arts and Sciences. The first is a biology course called “General Ecology” that is full for the fall semester, while “Issues in Environmental Futures” will be offered next semester and will provide a topical approach to what will happen to the environment in the future. Two to three professors will teach this class, with outside speakers coming in frequently.

Guided by its new plan, GRCC has joined the College and University Presidents for a Sustainable Future, a national group called “Economicology,” established by Grand Rapids philanthropist and environmentalist Peter Wege.

The school also has agreed to an audit sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, which will help the college implement policies that promote environmental sustainability on a daily basis.

In conjunction it will launch a 2+2 partnership with the University of Michigan and Aquinas College, through which students would attend GRCC for two years before transferring to either school. “These plans are still being discussed but since these two schools already have established environmental programs, it would be great to establish this program where students would have the first two years out of the way when beginning,” Burbridge said.

He added this might also be an opportunity to create a two-year associate’s degree in environmental studies. Professors of the current and future classes will come from already existing staff, but Burbridge said in the future outside staff might be brought in. “We will use our staff wherever possible,” he said.

The college also will host the Economicology Group of College and University Presidents’ annual meeting on its campus in February.

Wege, who also founded the CES, said GRCC has been and continues to be a fine role model on issues that affect the community. As the college strives to become as green as it can be, Olivarez said it will continue to assess all of its programs to ensure it is meeting the needs of the community.

Burbridge credited Olivarez with the ideas behind the actions. “When he became our president he wanted to explore some ways to make our campus ‘greener.’ Now we are seeing it happen and we are all pleased with the steps we are taking.”

Finally, the college is involved in the Community Pride Project, an additional project headed by CES. The project is in place to encourage community involvement in environmental projects and awareness. “There will be an emphasis on native plants,” said Burbridge. “We want to show the plants that are native to Michigan and to this area.”

Not only is GRCC supporting this project; it is also demonstrating it. The college has placed several native plants, along with explanatory signage, along Bostwick Avenue NE in front of the science building. Burbridge said he hopes to expand that area, as well as add environmental sculptures to the landscape.

“Our mission is to serve the community’s needs, and those needs change,” Olivarez said. “We began reviewing our environmental policies and programs more than two years ago, and found a need to have a more direct impact on students, staff and community members. I know our plans to ‘get greener at GRCC’ will continue to evolve as we gather input from students, faculty and people in the community.” 

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