Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 70.13
Liaison Eric O'Brien
Submission Date March 1, 2013
Executive Letter Download

STARS v1.1

University of Northern Iowa
IN-1: Innovation 1

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Eric O'Brien
University Sustainability Coordinator
Office of Sustainability
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A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome :

Capstone: Campus Sustainability in UK and Ireland

One of the prominent questions expressed during the 2011 Sustainability Forum on the University of Northern Iowa campus revolved around the idea of connecting our academic experience with the real world to create change. In front of an audience of nearly 200 UNI administrators, faculty, staff and community leaders, a group of UNI Capstone students posed this question. “How can we connect the classroom to the real world, while utilizing that experience to create positive impacts on our own campus?” This comment had a profound impact on many sitting around the discussion table and others in the audience during the reporting process.

Basics of the program:
This intensive educational experience was envisioned to opportune participants a unique cultural and rigorous academic experience that will have profound positive impacts on the UNI campus and student achievement. The students participating in this class will have an opportunity to visit a number of educational institutions in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Participants will witness how society and institutions of higher learning in another part of the world have adjusted to dwindling and degraded natural resources and changing regulations, problems that we are now beginning to address at UNI.

One tangible and truly unique outcome of this short term program has been student-created projects inspired by their experiences abroad. These projects serve as a roadmap for how UNI could implement new and innovative sustainability focused initiatives on campus and in the community. These projects have assisted in directing a number of groups on campus including other capstone classes, UNI Sustainability Council and Sustainability Action Committees, student groups, and the UNI Sustainability Office.

After the first year of the program, three new projects were initiated on the UNI campus as a direct result of student engagement in the Sustainability Abroad program. First, a group of two students involved in the class started a new social marketing/networking campaign on campus. The effort has showed great promise and has resulted in a substantial number of Facebook followers and increased traffic on the UNI Sustainability Office webpage. The second effort was a student managed organic garden that was inspired by students from the University of Birmingham in the UK. One member of the class has worked with the UNI Presidential Scholars group to get this project off the ground. The final subset of projects falls under the umbrella of greening the University of Northern Iowa Student Government (NISG). A group of students that participated in the study abroad course serve on NISG. Upon their return they devised a paperless plan for the NISG office. Additionally, they followed up with spearheading efforts to enroll UNI in TerraCycle programs, the Recyclemania Tournament, and to get involved in a number of other sustainable initiatives on campus.

In addition to the planned outcomes, there were also unexpected outcomes. Over the course of the Sustainability Abroad capstone experience, students were asked to write blog entries. These blog entries were posted during the course of the trip and resulted in unexpected increases in traffic on the UNI Sustainability Office website. Over the course of the June 2012 trip, the website experienced a 246% increase in traffic from the spring 2012 semester average.

Without the Sustainability Abroad capstone experience, it is unlikely that any of these extraordinary outcomes would have occurred. The vast majority of the students enrolled in this course did not have more than a casual understanding of sustainability prior to this experience. Upon returning to campus, many have been taking an active role in creating campus change based upon their experiences abroad and the lessons they were asked to take back to campus.

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise:
The website URL where information about the innovation is available :

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