Dr. Anna Demeo, COA’s Director of Energy Education and Management and Lecturer in Physics and Engineering; Dr. David Feldman, COA professor of physics and mathematics; and Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, COA professor of global environmental politics.The Thoreau Initiative combines academic preparation, experiential learning and action in international and local settings, and peer-to-peer learning and mentoring. Faculty members collaborating on the Initiative are
COA is among only 20 colleges that have been given seed funding for “visionary programs…that foster environmental leadership and engaged scholarship” from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation since its founding in 1999. COA and Harvard University share the only faculty grant awards for 2016.
“The Thoreau Initiative will provide transformative experiences for our students,” says COA president Darron Collins ’92. “It will invigorate and expand COA’s ability to inspire and prepare future environmental leaders. The Foundation also shares COA’s commitment to participatory, interdisciplinary learning.”
Through the Initiative, students will develop and lead local energy projects, such as starting a community-owned solar PV array and developing affordable home energy audit programs for local residents and businesses. They will also participate in the yearly meetings of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Students will organize and participate in peer-to-peer training and collaborative skill-building workshops, known as Thoreau Gatherings. At these gatherings, which will include environmentally minded students from other Maine colleges, students will gain communication, advocacy, and leadership skills that will help them be more effective in their environmental work. The first Gathering will take place in October, when students will meet with media professionals to develop public communications skills for mainstream and social media channels.
The Thoreau Initiative builds on and extends previous efforts carried out by COA, notes Demeo.
“Our interdisciplinary, student-centered educational program is well suited to this initiative, as it encourages students to combine knowledge from multiple disciplines and create a personalized course of study that allows for deep exploration,” she says.
According to Stabinsky, the Thoreau grant will enable the College to offer academic and experiential learning that will “inspire and equip the next generation of environmental advocates to operate effectively.”
Forty students – more than 10 percent of COA enrollment – will engage in participatory environmental learning as part of this initiative.
“The Initiative significantly expands the college’s work in energy and climate change,” says Feldman.
Demeo and Feldman have previously received funding from the Maine Space Grant Consortium to develop a class on sustainable energy, while a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency supported a sustainable energy workshop for local middle school teachers.
“Support from the Thoreau Foundation will enable us to amplify teaching and learning in sustainable energy,” Feldman says. “Equally important, it will help COA students see the connections between energy and climate change and prepare them to work in both areas.”
This summer, COA launched the Community Energy Center (CEC), a collaboration among COA faculty, staff, students, and local business and community leaders to research, develop, and implement innovative projects in renewable energy and energy conservation. As part of the Thoreau Initiative, the CEC, which recently received a $65,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program, will coordinate student participation in local energy projects,.
Jenna Farineau ’18, a member of the Initiative’s student core team, says she is excited to be part of the Initiative, and expects it to foster action and creativity among her peers.
“To be equipped with the skills and tools that one needs to be a successful environmental steward is empowering,” Farineau says.