Art Meets Science in GCC Greenhouse

In coming months, Greenfield Community College Art students and faculty will create art using “locally grown” inks they’ve made themselves from plants grown in GCC’s greenhouse. The Pigment Garden Project is the brainchild of Art Instructor Kelly Popoff and Greenhouse/ Laboratory Technician Tony Reiber and a collaboration between GCC’s Science and Art Departments. Kelly and Tony grew pigment plants in the greenhouse and gardens this summer and have begun processing the plants into ink. They grew cosmos, coreopsis, tansy, amaranth, beets, and Hopi dye sunflower, and will gather pigment plants from the wild, including chokeberry, pokeweed, and elderberry. Processing the plants involves simmering them in water, reducing the amount of liquid, and using gum arabic as a binder and metal powders to make the ink colorfast.

The dropper bottles of plant inks are a dream come true for Kelly, who ten years ago started experimenting with making pigments for her painting using colored soil from her former home in North Carolina. Because there isn’t much information available about making ink from natural materials, Kelly and Tony are using books about dyeing wool. Historically, plant dyes were a primary source of pigments for artists.     

“There’s a lot of chemistry involved,” said Tony. “Copper, alum (aluminum potassium sulphate), and iron are three metals used as mordants to fix dye so it won’t oxidize or fade. Many factors determine which color will be present, including when the pigment was extracted from the plant, whether the plant parts were fresh or dry, and when during the growing season they had been harvested.”

Talking about her collaboration with Tony, Kelly said, “We’re experimenting using different mordants with the plants to see variations in color they produce. The same flower petals make different colors depending on which metal is added. I’ve always been fascinated with how disciplines overlap and what we can learn from where they meet in the middle.Students from both science and art backgrounds will learn about the common ground between the fields, where there is similarity.”

Commenting on the project, GCC Dean of Humanities Leo Hwang says, “Kelly and Tony are teaching intentionality. How do you take something that is aspirational (utilizing local and hyper-local resources) and turn it into action? By teaching students how to make pigments out of local plants, Kelly and Tony are teaching about an ecology of the Anthropocene, our current age where human activity and our impact on the environment are woven tightly together. We have choices on how we interact with the environment and how we navigate a relationship with that environment. While the end product is a pigment, the end result is a group of students, artists and scientists who see how their roles are interconnected and how their actions are connected to the environment. Collaborations like this, across disciplines, where students and faculty broaden horizons and create innovative experiences, make GCC a unique and tremendously rich place to teach and learn.”

Students interested in the Pigment Garden Project are invited to an informational meeting on Monday, October 21 at Noon in Room S113. For information, contact Kelly Popoff at popoffk@gcc.mass.edu, 775-1240 or Tony Reiber at 775-1366, reibera@gcc.mass.edu.

By Mary McClintock, ’82 

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Energy Field Leads the Way

Like many GCC students, when Jamie Cross started at GCC in the spring of 2009, he wasn’t sure where he was headed. GCC helped him find the way. This fall, Jamie is studying at Illinois State University towards a master’s degree in Project Management focused in the Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency (RE/EE) field.

Jamie grew up in Buckland, graduated from Mohawk Trail Regional High School, and studied at  Bridgewater State College for a year and a half. As Jamie admits, his first attempt at college didn’t go well. He worked for a year after leaving Bridgewater, then decided to give GCC a try.

One of Jamie’s GCC classes in Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency sparked his interest, so he took more. Then, Jamie spent a summer as an intern at Sandri, a large energy company in Greenfield, funded through a program of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). He dealt with customer rebates, visited job sites, and interacted with businesses in the field. Jamie’s internship solidified his interest in the RE/EE field. He realized renewable energy had good career opportunities that also made a positive contribution to the community.

Jamie graduated from GCC with an Associate in Arts, Option in RE/EE in January, 2012. At that time, there were very few RE/EE bachelor’s degree programs, but Jamie found one in Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Interested in a focus on business rather than technical aspects, Jamie transferred to Illinois State in the economics track of the Renewable Energy Program.

Jamie did well in Illinois, saying “The classes at GCC were more rigorous than those at Illinois State. GCC provided me with technical knowledge and field experience compared to ISU students who had only taken survey courses of the various technologies. I knew a lot more about solar and building sciences.”

Jamie served as vice president of the Renewable Energy Society student group and as a teaching assistant for a class on Energy Management. He received his bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2013 and then spent ten days in Germany on an ISU Renewable Energy Department trip touring wind, solar, and sustainable development communities. He was awed by the advanced level of renewable energy production.

Looking back, Jamie said, “GCC really can transform your ideas. If you’re lost in knowing what you want to do, GCC can help you pinpoint what you want and help you throughout the process. GCC was challenging, the classes were small, I knew the professors well. Christine Copeland, Program Assistant and Intern Coordinator for the RE/EE program, really helped me get the internship and into Illinois State.”

Teresa Jones, coordinator of GCC’s RE/EE Program, said, “GCC’s RE/EE program started with funding for workforce development, and we’ve seen many energy sector workers grow in their skills, older students transition to new careers, and successful professionals apply new skills and knowledge to existing ones. For many, this is a terminal degree. Jamie was a more traditional community college student looking for direction who very successfully transitioned to a four-year institution and beyond. Jamie is on track for a higher-level management position in the Energy and Facilities field and wants to bring his skills and knowledge back to New England and be part of the energy transformation here.”

For information about GCC’s Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency Program, contact Christine Copeland or Teresa Jones at renewable@gcc.mass.edu or (413) 775-1472.

By Mary McClintock, ’82

 

GCC celebrates $100,000 solar grant

From The Greenfield Recorder – September 25, 2012 – By Chris Shores

GCC President Bob Pura (3rd from right) accepts a $100,000 grant from Paul Curran, Managing Director of SunEdison, to support education and training in the solar energy sector. Federal New Market Tax Credits, allocated by CEI Capital Management, provided financing to construct the 2 MW Solar Energy Facility in Greenfield and this community benefit support of GCC’s renewable energy programs. Pictured left to right: Common Capital CEO Chris Sikes, Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin, State Representative Paul Mark, CEI Capital Management CEO Charles Spies, US Congressmen Jim McGovern and John Olver, Curran, Pura, State Representative Steve Kulik and GCC Dean Peter Rosnick.

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Community College has received a $100,000 grant from private investors to help fund the school’s renewable energy/energy efficiency program. The grant — funded by solar energy company SunEdison as part of the $8 million 2.0-megawatt solar farm project built on the town’s capped landfill — will help pay for solar energy education and training at the college.

GCC President Robert Pura said that there is no longer a debate about the need to invest in solar energy and to find ways to make it more affordable for the masses. “The question is not if higher education should build green sustainable energy programs,” he told a group of legislators, educators and investors in front of the college Monday. “It’s to what degree are colleges really committed to the ideas that faculty and students are practicing every day. We want to reduce the gap between what they teach and how we act, this helps us make that commitment.”

The renewable energy/energy efficiency program, created three years ago, teaches students about alternative energy sources and connects them with internships in the field. While grant money will be used to help the academic program across the board, school officials said it will specifically focus on creating a solar energy training program that will help graduates gain employment in that field.

When SunEdison borrowed money from CEI Capital Management for the town’s solar farm project, the company agreed to give $100,000 of that money to GCC. Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, praised the collaboration between Greenfield, GCC, SunEdison and other private investors.

“A project like this at the college says, ‘This kind of investment (in energy-efficiency initiatives) is good,’” said Kulik. “It broadens people’s perspectives and acceptance of sustainable and wise uses of energy. I commend the college for that public example and also for the educational opportunities you’re providing people to get into this field.”

And U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, said that education of alternative energy sources is critical to the country’s future. “There are some people who believe we shouldn’t go down this road, that we should stick to the old way. The old way unfortunately has contaminated much of our environment,” said McGovern. “I believe what we’re doing here is leading not only Massachusetts but the rest of the country. This is where we need to go, this is the future.”