New England Colleges join forces to boost Green Workforce

July 21, 2017

Antioch University New England, Greenfield Community College, Keene State College, and the School for International Training are launching the Ecovation Hub Education and Training Consortium, which is dedicated to bringing broader green economy knowledge and opportunities to the tri-state area of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. A ceremonial signing and networking event with leaders from the four institutions was held on July 20 at  Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire.

Greenfield Community College students are passionate about a sustainable future and eager to take a role in creating it. Leaders in the three-state region are working to strengthen the green economy and community resilience after the closing of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Educators at Greenfield Community College and other area institutions of higher education are committed to do their part in those efforts. The region has unique strengths that have already created a strong green economy. Working together, educational institutions and area businesses have great potential to grow that economy and become a national locus for innovative, sustainable practices and services.

That’s why representatives from Greenfield Community College (GCC), Keene State College (KSC), Antioch University New England (AUNE), and SIT Graduate Institute (SIT) will gather on July 20 at Antioch University in Keene to sign an agreement to create the Ecovation Education and Training Consortium. The consortium will coordinate learning opportunities in Southern Vermont, the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire, and the Upper Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.

The Ecovation Education & Training Consortium (EETC) brings together the four partner institutions in a collaborative effort to provide targeted education and workforce development to match employer needs. The Ecovation Education & Training Consortium falls under the auspices of the Ecovation Hub, a Vital Project of Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS) (see background information below *). The EETC intends to work with industry sectors and economic development agencies to bridge the gap, in service to regional green economy goals as set forth in the Ecovation Hub economic development plan. GCC will use existing grants and will seek other external funding to support the initiative.

GCC Science Department Chair Teresa Jones explains, “For more than 10 years, GCC has offered educational and workforce programs in sustainability fields, like Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency, Farm and Food Systems, and Environmental Science. Passionate about creating a sustainable future, our students pursue diverse fields and jobs that require a wide range of educational background. With this consortium, we can help students map out where they want to go, and how to get there. It’s a tremendous opportunity for public higher education to leverage other public and private institutions to the benefit of our region, and theirs. Expanding our engagement with local business partners to include a much larger region opens up tremendous possibilities for employment and learning for our students.”

The Ecovation Education & Training Consortium will focus on:

  • Curriculum development
  • Credentialing—degrees, certificates, professional development, licensing
  • High-priority green goods and services career pathways

Identified pathways include:

  • Green Building Craft, Technology, Science, & Products
  • Sustainable Agriculture/Forestry and Food Systems
  • Building Climate Resilient Communities
  • Green Finance, Insurance, & Real Estate

Applauding the new Consortium, GCC President Bob Pura said, “This collaboration makes sense for so many different reasons. It is great for our students, great for our faculty and staff, and it has great potential for the economic development of the region. It is a true win, win, win, win.  GCC will learn and teach with its partners. Visits to one another’s campuses and detailed program discussions between faculty will enrich the offerings at each partner school.  But I must say that most powerful is its potential as an economic engine. I continue to see this region as ideal for green building and sustainable energy industry development. Our students are learning and preparing to lead the way.”

Peter Rosnick, Director of GCC’s Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy (SAGE) Education Center said, “Greenfield Community College has been very successful over the past decade in securing funding through Federal and State grants, foundations, and private donors in support of the college’s programming in Sustainability and Environment. These funds support enhanced relations with community businesses and organizations through coordinated curriculum development and internships; and they fund the building of on-campus learning infrastructure that includes a near-zero-net-energy greenhouse, The Outdoor Learning Lab (with organic growing beds, botanical garden, wetland and restoration meadow), and an on-campus ‘farm’ garden. GCC begins its third year of a $635,000 National Science Foundation Scholarship grant that provides qualified Renewable Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, Environmental Science, and Engineering students with up to $10,000 of additional scholarship funds. The Ecovation Education & Training Consortium is a logical next step that demonstrates to potential funders the widening circle that will provide our students with clearer academic and career pathways while supporting region wide green economic development.”

The Consortium’s vision is a 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 pipeline for education and training in sustainable and green fields. Each 2 represents two years of education. GCC’s outreach and collaboration with high schools is the first ‘2.’ GCC is the second ‘2’ in that pipeline with its certificate and associate degree programs. Keene State is the third ‘2’ with its bachelor’s degree programs. Antioch and SIT graduate degree programs are the final ‘2.’ The higher education partners all have strong programs in several areas of sustainability. By partnering, the educators hope to leverage what each school has already developed, and tap the existing strengths. By working together, they will pool their collective knowledge about career options for students interested in these fields (green building, renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture, and more). A database has already been created for more than 80 careers, including the type of training and education they require and which institution in the consortium offers that training. It will help students see what pathways exist and where they might go, and help educators focus their efforts in effective and resource-efficient ways. The Consortium Plans to leverage outside resources to make those visions happen. They will pursue financial resources to bring to the region to support sustainable economic development through workforce education.

PROJECT BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The closure of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, beginning in 2014, exacerbates negative economic trends experienced in the tri-county region of Windham County, Vermont, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, and Franklin County, Massachusetts. As former Vermont Yankee employees lose high-wage jobs (average wage of $105,000, compared to a tri-county regional average of $40,000) and leave the region, existing trends in unemployment, income, and population decline worsen (UMass Donahue Institute Economic and Public Policy Research, 2014).

Regional economic development initiatives seek to reverse the region’s economic decline by generating long-term economic growth and prosperity, improving quality of life and sustaining quality of place (http://brattleborodevelopment.com/projects/seveds-2). The Ecovation Hub comprehensive economic development strategy has brought together the public and private sector to establish regional goals and objectives and develop an action plan. This action plan includes addressing workforce education and training necessary to the development of the green economy sector, building on identified regional expertise in creating resilient, sustainable buildings and communities. According to Alex Beck, Workforce and Education Specialist at the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, “Access to qualified workforce, highly skilled or appropriately skilled, is the biggest limiting factor of growth right now.” A disconnect between workforce demand and training exists that needs to be bridged.

The Ecovation Education & Training Consortium seeks to work with industry sectors and economic development agencies to bridge the gap, in service to regional green economy goals as set forth in the Ecovation Hub economic development plan.

The Ecovation Education and Training Consortium has been designated a vital project through the 2016 Windham Region S.M.A.R.T. CEDS ranking process. This tri-state green economy regional development initiative, includes four components:

  • Education and Training Consortium will coordinate learning and credentialing for green building; products and service; finance, insurance and real estate; sustainable agriculture and agroforestry; and building climate resilient communities.
  • The Living Laboratory will create a destination experience for visitors to the region by mapping the region’s vibrant network of resilient, sustainable, climate prepared communities, businesses, and organizations.
  • The Systems Integration and Applied Research Center will support the development of Ecovation Hub platforms through R & D.
  • Antioch University New England’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience, which delivers a range of capacity-building education and training programs and conducts applied research. http://www.communityresilience-center.org/

Ecovation Hub

The creation of the Ecovation Hub is an outgrowth of a key cluster analysis project identified in the Windham Region CEDSThis project was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce EDA and the State of Vermont Windham County Economic Development Program. A video providing a brief overview of the Ecovation Hub can be found here http://brattleborodevelopment.com/ecovationhub/.

The emerging national hub of sustainability and resilience is envisioned to act as an incubator, accelerator and engine of economic growth for the tri-state region of Southern Vermont, Southwestern New Hampshire and North-West Massachusetts.  Its focus is sustainable economic growth and community-scale resilience to climate change.

Since 2007, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SEVEDS) have led an investigative assessment of existing assets that could fuel economic development in the wake of the power plant closure.

This team identified a unique cluster of green building assets across the tri-state region of Windham and Bennington Counties in Vermont, Cheshire County in New Hampshire, and Franklin County in Massachusetts that includes recognized national leaders in research, product development, manufacturing, and design and construction of high-performance buildings and communities. With an initial investment of over half a million dollars in federal, state and private investment, continued development of the “Ecovation Hub” is being driven by a tri-state Leadership Team chaired by Alex Wilson, founder of Building Green and The Resilient Design Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.  The continued development and uniting of these assets to build a hub of sustainability and resilience will serve as a model for other rural communities nationally and internationally.

The effort has already successfully engaged industry leaders, including:

  • Antioch University: The home of the Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience.
  • Bensonwood: A national leader in sustainable, high performance timber framing construction.
  • The Resilient Design Institute: A national nonprofit dedicated to advancing the practice of resilient design for buildings and communities.
  • World Learning: An international development educational organization with programs in 60 different countries.

With the participation of these organizations as well as institutions with financial and international connections, the Ecovation Hub Initiative is developing an integrated approach to spurring growth of green economy industries, rather than focusing on a single segment.

 About the Leadership team:

  • Alex Wilson, Resilient Design Institute, Brattleboro, VT
  • Abigail Abrash Walton, PhD, Antioch University, Keene, NH
  • Dan Yates, President, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, VT
  • Jennifer Stromsten, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, VT
  • Jim Verzino, Strolling of the Heifers, Brattleboro, VT
  • Sarah Kanabay, Franklin Community Co-operative, Greenfield, MA
  • Phil Suter, Executive Director Keene Chamber of Commerce, NH
  • Andrew Baker, Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board, MA
  • Stephan Dotson, Brattleboro, VT

About BDDC & SeVEDS:

The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation is a private, nonprofit economic development organization that serves as a catalyst for industrial and commercial growth throughout Southeastern Vermont, including Windham County and the towns of Readsboro, Searsburg, and Weston. BDCC serves as the State of Vermont’s certified Regional Development Corporation (RDC) for the greater Windham County area. BDCC is one of 12 RDCs throughout Vermont. For more information visit: http://brattleborodevelopment.com/

Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) is an affiliate of BDCC that grew from a 2008 grassroots effort, initiated by BDCC, to reverse the economic decline of the Windham Region and plan for the economic impacts from the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. In 2014, after multiple years of regional input, education and data gathering, SeVEDS submitted the Windham Region’s federally recognized S.M.A.R.T. Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for federal approval. For more information visit: www.seveds.com

Ecovation Hub

The Ecovation Hub is an outgrowth of a key cluster analysis project identified in the Windham Region CEDS. This project was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce EDA and the State of Vermont Windham County Economic Development Program. A video providing a brief overview of the Ecovation Hub can be found here http://brattleborodevelopment.com/ecovationhub/.

The emerging national hub of sustainability and resilience is envisioned to act as an incubator, accelerator and engine of economic growth for the tri-state region of southern Vermont, southwestern New Hampshire and northwest Massachusetts. Its focus is sustainable economic growth and community-scale resilience to climate change.

About the signers:

Antioch University New England

Founded in 1964, Antioch University New England (AUNE) provides learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, economic, and environmental justice. Coursework in all of its Master’s degrees, Doctoral degrees, and certificates integrates practice with theory in an environment that fosters scholarship and activism. AUNE is part of Antioch University, an accredited, non-profit university and a bold and enduring source of innovation in higher education that serves adult students around the world, online, and from its five campuses in four states. For more information, visit: www.antioch.edu/new-england

Keene State College

Keene State College is a preeminent public liberal arts college that ensures student access to world-class academic programs. Integrating academics with real-world application and active community and civic engagement, Keene State College prepares graduates to meet society’s challenges by thinking critically, acting creatively, and  serving the greater good. To learn more about Keene State College, visit www.keene.edu. Wisdom to Make a Difference.

School for International Training

School for International Training (SIT) is a global institution offering programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels for an increasingly internationalized society. SIT delivers education that challenges our students to think critically and provides them with skills to tackle the most critical contemporary global issues. Our values – inclusion, experiential education, engaged learning, community, reciprocity, social justice, and sustainability – foster the development of emerging leaders, deeply concerned with and committed to issues central to social justice, long-term peace, and understanding across cultures worldwide.

Greenfield Community College

Lives change for the better every day at Greenfield Community College. Founded in 1962, GCC is located in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts and is the smallest of the 15 community colleges in the Massachusetts public higher education system. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, GCC offers: Associate degrees and career certificates in highly sought-after fields to prepare students for the region’s growing knowledge-based economy; a wide variety of innovative programs with varied learning environments; and, customized workforce development training catered to specific industry needs and interests. GCC has transfer agreements with public and private schools throughout New England and nearly fifty percent of GCC students transfer to four-year colleges and universities. To learn more, visit www.gcc.mass.edu.

By Mary McClintock, ’82

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