Overall Rating Silver
Overall Score 54.99
Liaison Denice Koljonen
Submission Date Feb. 6, 2019
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

Boston College
IN-25: Innovation B

Status Score Responsible Party
1.00 / 1.00 Jennifer Foley
Project Manager
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Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Hydroponics and Social Justice in Boston College’s College Bound Program

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

When Boston College Professor Mike Barnett first got students involved in hydroponics, he couldn’t get them to go home. “We charged them with the task of building a hydroponic system to grow 50 plants that would fit in a closet, and they wouldn’t leave the lab. At that point we knew we were on to something” said Barnett.

Hydroponics and Social Justice is part of the College Bound program for high school students at Boston College. College Bound is a pre-collegiate enrichment and support program offered to a diverse group of 50-60 students from three Boston city public high schools. The mission of the program is to empower students to become positive change agents in their schools and communities. In the Hydroponics and Social Justice track, students learn how to grow vegetables with hydroponic and solar systems while understanding how food justice impacts the local community.

Under the guidance of Mike Barnett, professor of Science Education and Technology at the Lynch School of Education, an important focus of the program is to instill a love of science among the students, many of whom might otherwise shy away from it. He has been teaching them to grow and harvest vegetables and herbs in a hydroponic garden, then sell them at farmers markets. According to Barnett, the marketing component of selling the vegetables gets the kids really excited. Barnett said, “That has been the anchor that got them to learn about the vegetables and hydroponics, because they had to explain it to customers.”
Students, most of whom are the first in their families to consider going to college, submit teacher recommendations and applications for the program. The program intentionally chooses mid-level students who do not have very high-level math and science skills and just need that push. “When you grow food, you learn a little about physics, a little about chemistry, and a little about biology. It’s all about helping kids get excited about science” said Barnett.
Hydroponics is a process that allows plants to grow with water and mineral nutrients, without soil. Plants can be grown indoors and certain plants can grow faster hydroponically than in soil. The hydroponic vegetables moved from a smaller rooftop garden to a greenhouse that offers 1,200 square feet of growing space where they produce about 1,000 plants every two weeks. Among the plants they grow are basil, lettuce, chard, kale, parsley, spinach, dill. Energy efficient LED lights and sunlight help the plants to grow.

The students in the hydroponics track spend their Saturdays at Boston College and/or the farmers market. They are part of the growing process from start to finish, including taking care of their plants, harvesting, and selling at the local farmers markets. The students have to respond to questions from customers who might not know about hydroponics. These conversations with customers help to build confidence in the students when speaking with adults and help develop more confidence with public speaking. They also gain experience in business planning since they need to figure out which farmers markets to go to, how to price their products, and how to spend their profits which include saving and investing in materials. The students are also designing solar panels and building robotics to power hydroponic units and transparent soil greenhouses.

Because of the success of this program, it has evolved into new programs reaching out to more students, including a three year, $2-million continuation grant from the National Science Foundation in 2017 to support a project called “Change Makers: Urban Youth Food Justice Ambassadors.” This involves 840 public middle and high school students in Boston, Springfield and Waltham schools who are learning how to grow plants hyrdroponically and sell them at farmers markets. They work on the problem of food injustice using their own diet as a microsystem, studying what and where they eat day-to-day and learning the necessary science to assess how their diet may impact their long-term health. They consider what crops to grow to eat healthier. They also examine their own food security and explore how they can help others and develop tools to convince their peers that eating habits impact long-term health.
According to Boston College’s research, these programs are helping students develop positive attitudes and confidence toward science among participants from populations that are typically underrepresented in science. Hydroponics and Social Justice are perfect for city students since they learn that in areas with limited green space and areas with more likelihood of soil contamination, they can still grow vegetables hydroponically, learn and practice science and business, build their communication skills and confidence and give back to their communities.

Which of the following impact areas does the innovation most closely relate to? (select up to three):
Public Engagement

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

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