Students and Sustainability: Making Real-World Connections

by Teresa W. Harris

It is easy to lose sight of the purpose of learning when, focused on getting good grades and graduating, students chug along through college classes. However, some educational opportunities give students much more than textbook knowledge. They provide students with a meaningful learning experience.

Such is the case with Assistant Professor Tom Donlan’s Public Relations class (SPC125), which focuses on engaging students with the College’s sustainability initiative. Donlan specifically chose the Initiative for the class project not only as a way to give students real world experience in public relations, but to also help heighten awareness of the College’s sustainability initiative through active planning and participation.

To begin, students were asked to research independently the history and successes of the initiative, and also to uncover its problems and weaknesses. This step gave students a strong sense of the College’s priorities and efforts, and started them thinking about possible improvements.

Next, students were tasked with developing a program plan to address gaps within the initiative, further engaging students in the sustainability initiative process. Developing the program plans gave purpose to the students’ projects and brought the sustainability theme to the forefront of their daily activities. Students started thinking about how actions impact the earth and its eco-systems, and how they could effect changes, thus lessening their negative footprint.

The next step involved designing a communications plan to reach several audiences through various mediums, in an effort to ignite campus and community activism with the initiative. Finally, evaluation plans were developed to help measure the potential success of the students’ public relations plan.

As a result of their experiences in this class, students made or renewed their commitments to more earth-friendly actions, whether it was buying locally grown foods, giving up their lust for paper, or using more public transportation. Under Assistant Professor Donlan’s guidance, students were transformed from observers to participants and perhaps even teachers of the sustainability initiative. Not only did they learn about and use the public relations process, but they also became better citizens of the earth as a result!

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Teresa W. Harris is a Speech Communications major at Montgomery County Community College. She was enrolled in SPC 125 during the fall 2010 semester.

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