EnvironMentors Feature

What is EnvironMentors? To Sean Russell, a former mentee, the program “gave [him] the voice to be able to spread activism in regard to the environment”. Sean’s mentor, Clara Kitongo, says that the program serves to expose young environmentalists to the environmental field, and that it helps students to develop their skills. EnvironMentors is a national college program which connects high school students with professionals in the field of sustainability. Clara, for example, works for Tree Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the urban forest. The program works with students from communities underrepresented in the sciences who have interest in sustainability. 

Pictured: Clara Kitongo, EnvironMentors mentor

Some of the program’s key features are the aspects of mentorship and project-based learning. Clara is particularly passionate about mentorship; she has a vision of one day founding a mentorship organization, similar to EnvironMentors, to serve young girls from Uganda, her home country. The mentors of the EnvironMentors program help to guide their mentee as they complete a project based on an environmental topic of their choice. The process is heavily student-led, so these projects end up looking very different from student to student. Sean’s project was a collection of poems on Pittsburgh air quality, which he presented in a public event at Tree Pittsburgh in summer 2021, and in an online format. Sean’s poems discuss Pittsburgh’s unique history with industrial air pollution, and he discusses its impact on him and on the community around him. One of his poems discusses his experience of trying to go for a run in Pittsburgh, and feeling betrayed by Mother Nature when he suddenly felt the air “scratch [his] lungs”. Since that day, as a high school track athlete, he’s resorted to running indoors. 

The EnvironMentors program is designed to give students like Sean the opportunity to express and advocate for themselves, be it through science research and also through community organizing, poetry, authoring a children’s book, or any other means of expression they might choose. But the program doesn’t just benefit the mentee, it also benefits the mentor. Clara says she feels Sean helped her stay on track with the program goals, because he was very well-organized. She feels that the program allowed her to, “grow as a person who can s

Pictured: Sean Russel, EnvironMentors mentee

upport other people.”  

To those interested in becoming a mentor, Clara recommends remaining open to the process of learning and growing: “It’s a newer program, so there are a lot of things that we’re developing… I would encourage anyone who comes in to just be open-minded.”She also encourages prospective mentors not to tell their mentee what to do, and instead to allow new ideas to emerge. Interested in becoming a mentor? Please complete this 2021-22 Mentor Interest Form.

To those interested in joining the program as a mentee, Sean encourages students to push themselves if they feel unsure: “Maybe you have to get out of your comfort zone, but if you do it you can really benefit from it.” This year, Sean is hoping to work with Clara and expand his project to work with a team of other students and do something at the next level with the work he’s already done. 

Interested in starting an EnvironMentors program at your school? Please contact khenderson@chatham.edu

Growing White Teacher Advocates – Summer 2020

In June and July 2020, Chatham University’s Eden Hall K-12 Program piloted Growing White Teacher Advocates. This study group for K-12 in-service educators, administrators, and out-of-school-time educators was a learning community, caucus group, mindfulness-based experiential gardening program and book group, all in one. Educators met four times over twelve total hours as they read, discussed and embodied Leah Penniman’s book Farming While Black. We talked deeply about the history and current state of racism in the food system, education system and society at large. We dug into whiteness and why it’s important to talk about racism with white students. We planned personal action steps to integrate positive white teacher-advocate practices into teaching and daily life.

As we discussed the book and what it means for white educator teaching practices, the ten participating educators also worked on the agroecology garden at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus to help build new growing beds. This “work and talk” space allowed educators to be in a mindful, meditative, body-centric space as we dug deep into racial justice topics and their connection to sustainability and food systems. It was wonderful to be able to have an in-person program with social distancing and tool sanitation practices in the middle of so much virtual life this summer.

All program fees were donated or are in the process of being donated to local Black Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC) led businesses and organizations. The participants chose where to send their individual fees. Organizations that have received or are receiving these program fee donations include: Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh, Sankofa Village Community Garden, Oasis Farm and Fishery Bible Center Church, The Citizen Science Lab, and Pittsburgh Village Project.

Here are a few of the action steps mentioned directly by the program participants:

  • “Be part of the committee at my school formed to support our Diversity Director.”
  • “Meet with our AP Coordinator and principal about getting more black students into AP courses and supporting them in those courses.”
  • “Continuing to advocate for the removal of police from schools via OnePA.”
  • Push for anti-racist training for our faculty. Include BIPOC students and community members in planning next steps.”
  • “Work on an evaluative system to hold all teachers accountable to anti-racist, anti-bias, cross-culturally responsible teaching in their classrooms. Draw together an advisory council of community stakeholders and teachers and students for a listening session of improvements.”
  • “Explicitly predicate my teaching on anti-oppression from the outset”
  • “Explore land acknowledgements.”
  • “[Race and racism will be] the key objective in all my lessons.”
  • “Time must be made in every teaching day to talk about race so that my students become comfortable talking about it and building a vocabulary to talk about it.”
  • “Small issues that come up in class are not small and need to be addressed immediately.”
  • “We need to help our colleagues with this effort, sometimes as much as we need to help our students.”
  • “I plan to do some reflecting on how my curriculum and grading practices can be more equitable. I plan to teach more specifically about anti-racist leaders (both black and white) in my history classes, and about how social movements develop and grow.”
  • “The topic of race and racism requires schools to hire teachers who are specialists/trained with a deep understanding of the issues so that a sustained focus is happening for the school community.”
  • “[I will be] an advocate for black students, especially when it comes to taking more advanced courses and also when it comes to disciplinary practices.”
  • “I need to find more co-conspirators on our school board, alumni group families and together find a strategic, methodical way to dismantle the systemic ways oppressing our our Black and Brown students and staff.”

We were so deep into the program that we didn’t get any pictures of the participants, but here’s a picture of program co-facilitator Madeline Hennessey, Chatham Bachelor of Sustainability student and trained Intergroup Dialogue Facilitator, in front of the garden beds we built together. Check back in with us for future versions of this program. We plan to run it again as a white caucus group and also for an interracial group of participants.

Written by Kelly Henderson, Co-Facilitator for Growing White Teacher Advocates

Announcing Sustainability and Social Justice Career Webinar Themes for 2020-21

With the switch to virtual learning, Eden Hall’s K-12 office has been offering Sustainable Career Webinars since April. These events are meant to help young people better understand the variety of careers in the field. They also are meant to help students better identify the connections between social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Offered at a 6th grade vocabulary level, and open to any grade, we’ve been excited to see 3rd-12th graders and educators from a wide variety of schools on the calls so far. Our speakers have worked in various sectors, including: renewable energy, green buildings, air/water quality, conservation, community development, affordable housing, climate change, environmental education and more. All of which work towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Did you or your students miss some of our webinars this spring? You can check out all past career webinar recordings on our resources page, including links to related reading and tips for taking action from the speakers themselves.

This fall, we are excited to announce that the webinar series will continue with a monthly theme. These themes will highlight the connections between sustainability topics and social justice. In the same month, you will hear from climate scientists while also hearing from organizations that work with refugees and immigrants. Why? Because climate change is causing people to have to leave their homes and migrate all over the globe! What happens when that movement is met with xenophobia? Each month will be intersectional in nature, but will start with the history and current nature of a particular form of social identity-based oppression.

Without further ado, here are the themes for next year:

  • September – Climate Change and Ethnicity-Based Oppression
  • October – Food Systems and Racial Oppression
  • November/December – Clean Air and Water and Gender/Sexuality Oppression
  • January – Energy and Class Oppression
  • February – Community Development, Ability and Ageism
  • March – Ecology and Religious Oppression

Have an idea for a speaker you admire locally or nationally that work in any of these areas that you want to learn more from? Let us know! We can’t wait to have this conversation with a local and national pool of students, educators and speakers. We are currently busy scheduling virtual careers webinars for the whole school year, and are aiming for at least one per week. Keep a look out for our Career Webinar Schedule and do not forget to register in advance, please! In the meantime, we can’t wait for our next sustainable career webinar event this summer with the Global Sustainability Lead for Facebook on June 24th.

Post written by Rashmi Salamani and Kelly Henderson

About the author:

Hello Everyone! I am Rashmi Salamani and I am the newest member of the Eden Hall Campus K-12 Programs team. I have come all the way from India to dive deeper into the world of sustainability and help humans become a more responsible species for this planet.

A civil engineer by profession, my work experience with construction companies back in India is where I first began observing the hostile attitude of the sector towards environmental issues. I was surprised by this since it seemed to me that they are well-known facts that the built environment accounts for 40% of global energy use, 30% of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, high waste generation and the highest consumption of natural resources compared to other industries like agriculture and manufacturing. It is ironic that the construction sector with its Environmental Health and Safety policies is almost always inclined towards human health and safety and environmental health is conveniently ignored. This motivated me to delve deeper into concepts of sustainability in the built environment, leading me to Chatham’s Falk School.

With its aspirations for a self-sustaining and energy efficient campus, including solar and geothermal energy, an onsite wastewater treatment plant, and many other sustainable design features, the Falk School lives by “practice what you preach” motto and enables its students to think about and experience sustainability in many ways. I aim to learn and be able to execute projects that strengthen the relationship between people and the environment and inspire people to live in harmony with nature.

From facilitating field trips to now leading our office’s efforts with the sustainable career webinars, I am ecstatic to be working with the Eden Hall K-12 Program. It is my first time working with school-aged students, and I consider it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I have particularly been fascinated by the work because it allows me to explore simple ways to help youth understand a complex topic like sustainability.


Intersection Between Soical Justice Issues and COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the social injustices that exist in our systems and institutions. A national crisis like this tests the strength and resilience of our society’s systems, infrastructure, and leaders, but also exposes their weaknesses. During this pandemic, vulnerable populations are facing the compounding systemic effects of social injustice that continue to be embedded in our society’s structures, combined with a biased national and statewide response. The COVID-19 crisis is a teachable moment for the United States, highlighting the social injustices that exists in systems (from healthcare to education and beyond) and demanding that we do better in providing equitable and just circumstances for all the members of our communities.

Many states and cities in the United States have noticed an unequal racial distribution of COVID-19 cases and deaths1. Specifically, African Americans have experienced greater threat from COVID-19 relative to the total population in many locations across the United States2. This trend has largely been attributed to pre-existing social injustice in our nation’s health care system1. Race and income are often linked to a lack of access to health insurance and medical care, as lower income jobs tend not to offer health insurance1. Often health services in racially diverse and low-income communities have less access to resources1. To make matters worse, economic, food access and environmental justice disparities experienced by minoritized communities combined with discrimination in the healthcare system leads to an increase in chronic diseases. COVID-19 symptoms are more severe for people with pre-existing chromic disease like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and heart disease2. As a result, we see now how some groups of people, including African Americans, are experiencing more severe effects from COVID-19 because of the circumstances created by socially unjust healthcare, economic, governance/planning, and food access systems.

Race and income have also affected the rates in which people encounter the disease. Social isolation is considered the strongest preventative measure of slowing the virus. Many jobs have transitioned to an online format, but those whose jobs are considered essential, including grocery store and public transit workers, are still at high risk of contracting the disease1. Recent data has revealed that, especially in urban locations, African Americans make up a large percentage of those employed in essential jobs putting African Americans more at risk of contracting COVID-191.

The U.S. has also been criticized for not taking social justice issues into consideration in its response to and evaluation of the COVID-19 crisis. While many counties and states themselves are tracking the demographic trends of the virus’s infection, the CDC was critiqued for not publishing data on the racial differences of COVID-19 cases in the United States1. Data on the racial and socio-economic trends of COVID-19 cases can be used to evaluate which groups are most vulnerable, distribute resources and aid, and improve strategies. Without collecting data and acknowledging how different groups are being affected, the nation cannot improve its response. The COVID-19 response has also been criticized for being impacted by pre-existing gender biases3. Many are being negatively affected by the decision to make sexual and reproductive health services a “non-essential,” business, even though they provide critical aid to girls and women3.

Beyond the immediate impacts of the disease, existing systemic inequities in education institutions are also being bared to the world. As software companies offer free services to schools that are switching to virtual learning, how to students without access to internet or devices at home take advantage of these new modes of learning? The digital divide impacts black, Latinx and low-income families the most, so how do we prevent this sudden switch to virtual learning from exacerbating existing inequities in schooling4.

For those that have not lost their jobs and who hold relative privilege in normal times, and in this time of crisis, it is important to take action. In Pittsburgh, here are some ways you can help bridge systemic inequities right now:

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging and trying time for the United States of America. As we all try to move forward and make the best of a universally challenging situation we look to our friends, families, and communities for strength. But, the lessons of this experience should not be forgotten. This experience reveals how much work we still have to do to fix broken systems and gives us the opportunity to create a more sustainable, resilient and fairer world moving forward. Looking for ways to be an advocate while stuck at home? Focus your reading list to learn more about systemic change and inequality and then talk to leaders of institutions within your personal spheres of influence.

If you are aware of additional opportunities to help through donations, advocacy or service, please email them to khenderson@chatham.edu and we will add them to the above list.



  1. Evelyn, K. (2020, April 8). “It’s a racial justice issue”: Black Americans are dying in greater numbers from Covid-19. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/its-a-racial-justice-issue-black-americans-are-dying-in-greater-numbers-from-covid-19
  2. Aubrey, A., & Neel, J. (2020, April 8). Cdc hospital data point to racial disparity in covid-19 cases. NPR.Org. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live- updates/2020/04/08/830030932/cdc-hospital-data-point-to-racial-disparity-in- covid-19-cases
  3. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. (2020, April 10). Centring sexual and reproductive health and justice in the global COVID-19 response.https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-04-centring-sexual-reproductive-health-html
  4. Fishbane, L. and Tomer, A. (2020, March 20). As classes move online during COVID-19, what are disconnected students to do? Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/20/as-classes-move-online-during-covid-19-what-are-disconnected-students-to-do/

Why Project Based Learning and Sustainability are the Perfect Pair

When we talk about sustainability, we are really talking about transforming communities. When we are dealing with the big, wicked problems listed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (No Poverty, Gender Equality, and Climate Action, just to name a few) we need all hands on deck. Then why does our schooling system effectively separate K-12 youth from their communities and our democracy for the first 18 years of our lives? Why don’t we have a global call to focus 100% of school time on learning about and solving community problems? And it’s not just schools that contribute to this exclusion of young budding activists. Many community based organizations have minimum age limits for membership or participation. If a 12-year-old is really passionate about affordable housing and ending gentrification in your community, why should you not let that passionate and conscientious digital native run your social media campaign to help get folks out to community meetings?

Have I convinced you that we should use the school day to transform our communities? Here at Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus K-12 Programs, we believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) is the pedagogy that allows for this transformational work in the classroom most effectively. According to a summary of existing PBL research, collected by the Buck Institute, PBL brings the following benefits to schools:

  • Deeper understanding of content and improved retention
  • Improved performance on standardized tests
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Improved collaboration and conflict resolution skills
  • Increased student engagement and attendance
  • Increased job satisfaction for teachers

On top of these, PBL also allows students to drive their own learning, builds relationships between the school and the community, and is a perfect tool for practicing culturally sustaining teaching and working to close the opportunity gap.

Digging deeper into the seven essential elements of “Gold Standard PBL,” we can see how this pedagogy works so well with the concept of sustainability. Authentic, challenging, place-based problems are brought to the table. Student voice and choice determines where the project goes, while sustained inquiry, reflection and critique and revision guide the solutions and deliverables presented to be high-quality. Presenting solutions in front of a public audience of community members and stakeholders that care about the problem make student work meaningful, and show adults in the community that youth can contribute to some of the biggest problems we face.

Gold Standard PBL design elements from the Buck Institute

Feeling energized to try integrating sustainability with PBL to bring your practice to the next level? Join us for a “PBL Through the Lens of Sustainability” Workshop, join a community of educators committed to this work on Facebook (where you can also find sample units), or see some student-presented results of PBL at the annual Seeds of Change Conference. Already doing PBL in your classroom but focused on simulations or design challenges that don’t actually create products that are authentically useful outside the classroom context? Not all PBL is high quality and not all PBL contributes to community change efforts. We hope the network of peers that comes together at Eden Hall can help you get there.



Livestock Integration in Agriculture

When we think of a farm in our heads, we picture cows, chickens, and vegetables all growing together. While many family farms used to be run this way, conventional agriculture has introduced a monoculture approach to farming. Specialized machinery has made it more efficient to grow only a few crops in large quantities. Farmers increasingly concentrate on only livestock or produce. While this helps increase efficiency it also weakens the overall environment of the farm.

At Eden Hall, we approach agriculture very thoughtfully by combining new and traditional concepts. Intercropping and livestock integration are crucial to the health of our growing spaces here. Increased biodiversity, especially through our use of livestock, helps enrich our soil quality and decreases the impacts of pests. Currently, we have 7 chickens, 4 ducks, and 9 goats. Our chickens are our longest livestock residents and we continually research and experiment with how we can use them to enhance our growing abilities. Our chickens’ coop is mobile, and we move it every other week during the growing season so that the chickens can fertilize the soil and eat insects to prep the beds. We use the goats to help mediate invasive species in our forests.

This upcoming growing season will be our first opportunity to integrate the ducks into our agricultural practices. Farms can use ducks to manage pests. Orchards have used ducks to control snails that can damage the trees. We are also working to create a compost pile for the livestock manure that we will be able to add to our beds to increase the organic matter in the soil. Our approach to livestock integration is multi-beneficial, allowing us to harvest animal products as well as sustainably enhance our growing capabilities as a farm.

In the past, we incorporated the livestock into our farm and garden service activity, but as our awareness of the beneficial purposes of livestock has grown, we have decided that livestock integration is a subject so rich it deserves its own lesson plan. Therefore, our program has decided to create a new activity focused on livestock. During this activity, students will learn about the importance of livestock in sustainable agriculture and will make treats for them to supplement their regular diet. This hands-on experience will bring students face to face with animals they have only seen in pictures giving them a deeper understanding of where their food comes from.

Felicity Moffett

Introducing Our New Program Assistant Christopher Soares!

Hello! My name is Christopher Soares and I am the new K-12 Program Assistant. I am excited to separate the veils that shield people from how food systems work. My journey with food systems began while I was still an undergraduate student. Despite being on the path to go to medical school I found myself unsure of the decision. I felt that the medical field lacked a holistic approach to health and did not put enough weight on the topic of nutrition.

While previously engaged in education and community building my interests drove me to look for opportunities to seek a deeper understanding of the food system. I began working for an organic farm in Connecticut to get personal experience. There I was able to help cultivate nutritious local food. I aspire to become a full-time farmer in the future, especially with the number of farmers retiring versus the number of new farmers entering the field (no pun intended). These are concerning statistics regarding our nation’s ability to provide an equitable and healthy food system. Local farmers are often underappreciated and poorly compensated given the hard work and resources it takes to grow the nutritious food that fills people’s plates daily. For those without access to healthy food, some farmers have the generosity to donate what they produce to local food banks and soup kitchens and encourage other farmers to do the same. Eden Hall’s farm has a field space for crops that are specifically dedicated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s Green Grocer truck.

Picture of the Connecticut farm I worked on

Dahlia grown on the organic farm

I am excited to share my previous experiences and passion for the food system with visiting schools and programs. If you feel that you need assistance introducing agricultural concepts combined with social justice issues in the classroom, please feel free to reach out to me. Furthermore, when you participate in our Farm and Garden Service opportunity at Eden Hall, prepare to fill the role as a farmhand and get your hands dirty!

P.S. Currently, I am developing a lesson plan on Mushroom/fungi production for 9-12 grade students – fungi are vital for our ecosystem! Also, I am planning our annual Seeds of Change conference that is set to take place on Tuesday, May 12th, 2020, at Eden Hall. Here is the link to learn more and register your team: https://www.chatham.edu/edenhall/k12/conference.cfm

Falk Lab School Achieves Zero Waste Packed Lunch

On October 21, 2019, a class of Falk School 5th graders visited Eden Hall as part of their exploration of renewable energy sources.  It was a beautiful sunny fall day, and we started with a tour of campus, which included their wastewater systems for capturing, filtering, and reusing water, the fish tanks in their aquaponics lab, and the year-round greenhouse where we enjoyed the fragrant earthy smells of the squashes, tomatoes, and herbs they were growing.

We had signed up for the Passive Solar Design Challenge. Each small group of students was provided various types of insulating and reflective materials (e.g., newspaper, aluminum foil, bubble wrap) and challenged with designing a system that would capture the sun’s energy. We tested the designs by measuring the temperature of a cup of water before and after a 30-second exposure to a heat lamp. Initially, most groups were more concerned with preventing heat loss by insulating the outtake hose, but after a couple of tries, they started focusing on how to maximize the capture of the radiant heat. In the end, every group was able to raise the temperature of the water, in some cases as much as 10 degrees F.

Then we had lunch. In the preliminary materials, Eden Hall sent a challenge: to see how close to making a zero-waste lunch could we get. They had plenty of suggestions such as bring reusable containers and cloth napkins. Over the years, Falk School has been working hard to reduce waste. Our primary level students have made large, laminated signs for the bins that collect recyclables, compost, and landfill items. Our middle schoolers created collages of all the materials to provide visual reminders of what should go in each bin at lunch. Classrooms have added to their job charts monitoring that things are done correctly at the end of lunch. So our 5th class was well versed in minimizing waste and primed to do well. In fact, we did very well, having generated the lowest amount of lunch waste in all of Eden Hall’s history!

Benoni Outerbridge

Zero-Waste Lunch 1-sheet_1117

Ending Food Waste -The Beauty behind “Ugly” Food

Hello everyone! I’m Chloe, an undergraduate student studying math and education who also works as an Educator and Project Support Coordinator on the Eden Hall K – 12 team. I have loved the opportunity that working for the K -12 program has given me to explore sustainability topics. Over the past year I have been able to both review and create lesson plans for the program on topics like soils, compost, geocaching, and solar thermal technologies. Most recently, I have been working on creating a new food waste and food products lesson plan to add to our field trip selection. We are very excited to be offering this dynamic and interactive lesson plan to future  students. Today I am writing to share with you  some of my excitement and experiences developing this lesson!


The Food Waste lesson has grade range options; K-3, 4-8, and 9-12, but my favorite lesson plan to design was the version for K – 3. I am studying to become a high school teacher, so I was going a little outside of my comfort zone at first, but I really enjoyed trying something new! I started off by doing some research on food waste and was reminded that there are many instances where perfectly edible food is thrown away or not sold at major grocery stores because it is deemed undesirable – either it is too small, too big, or bruised. After watching some documentaries about this issue I decided to create lesson based on it. Over all, the main goal of the lesson is designed to encourage students to recognize that food can look many different ways and inspires them to find ways to ensure that edible food isn’t wasted. The lesson begins by discussing food production and the hard work that is behind food by reading the book Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson. This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend you check it out if you have little ones and want to start a discussion about the importance of food!


The rest of the lesson is focused on the idea of creating art that captures the beauty of the “funny food” that might look a little different from the food you would see at a typical grocery store. We frame this by discussing different images related to body image and beauty campaigns, specifically ones that highlight positive characteristics of each person in a beautiful way. While at first it might seem silly to students, we create art that highlights food that might otherwise be wasted in a similarly beautiful way. We hope that these discussions present the opportunity for students to consider what beauty truly is, and to understand beauty in a way that differs from what society teaches us.


After designing this lesson, I soon became aware of how closely this correlates to the thesis of a past MSUS student Jess Canose. In her thesis, Jess explores similar ideas of beauty and ugliness in food by completing an “ugly produce photography” project. This was just one more interesting piece that connects my lesson to the Chatham community, which we strive to do as we integrate place-based learning into our programming. Depending on the grade level of students, they all create a different form of art or product to share. Students in grades K-3 draw a picture of some unique food, while students in grades 4-8 draw their own advertisement. Students in high school are asked to brainstorm a tweet, that we will later tweet on their behalf, that educates people on food waste problems. Regardless of grade, the essential message of the lesson stays the same. How do we define beauty, and how can this influence our own food waste?

Rural Economic Development and K-12 Schools


Hello everyone! I’m Connor, the K-12 Social Justice Educator and Project Support Coordinator. I’m an MSUS student with interests in environmental justice and transitions to sustainability. I first became interested in environmental issues while studying photojournalism in undergrad after seeing a professor’s documentary work on communities impacted by unconventional natural gas development. I began to seek out similar stories to tell with my camera but wanted to learn more about environmental issues, their social impacts and what can be done for them. These questions led me to Chatham, where an internship gave me the opportunity to find the answers.

A photograph I took while freelancing for PublicSource of residents of Jeannette, PA at the natural gas well across the street from their home.

Reimagine! Beaver County is a grassroots community organization that gathered community members over the past couple of years and asked them what kind of development they would like to see in their communities. Attendees to their workshops were asked to think big, and they delivered cutting-edge ideas such as eco-industrial parks and solar electric car infrastructure, with a broad focus on developing energy, green chemistry/manufacturing, agriculture and recreation/tourism sectors. Part of my job with Reimagine is figuring out how Beaver County can begin to turn those ideas into reality with the resources currently available in the county. The first requirement is interest, and as we saw in Reimagine’s workshops, there’s a clear widespread desire for sustainable development in Beaver County towns like Aliquippa, Beaver Falls and Center Township. A need for jobs is also important, and is evidenced by other development in the area. A third critical element is the ability to create meaningful partnerships for achieving the shared community goals. For example, partnerships with higher education institutions or labor unions can help develop a workforce to meet the needs of proposed development, like eco-industrial parks.

A map from one of Reimagine! Beaver County’s visioning sessions.

The goal of all this effort is to create a green, diversified local economy and do so equitably. Some rural and semi-urban towns in Pennsylvania such as Connellsville and Monaca have begun developing around sustainable business models and enacting sustainability policies, proving big cities aren’t the only places that can be sustainable. On our new Rural Economic Development tab on our resources page, you can find key information on the subject such as the UN’s decisions and recommendations on the matter, guides on developing sustainable counties and towns, and tools to help you support local solar and agricultural businesses. For teachers and students, an all-grades explainer on hydraulic fracturing from Science Friday can be found, along with links mentioned in the explainer on classroom activities such as a board game centered on the concept of ecosystem services.

My hope is that these resources can be of use to students, teachers and lifelong learners in understanding the options and possibilities that are available to rural parts of the country. Although resource extraction and related industries have provided for Southwestern Pennsylvania and Appalachia for hundreds of years its social, environmental and health impacts have shown a need for transition. As I continue to study transitions toward sustainability at Chatham I’m available to mentor classes on Project Based Learning (PBL) units focused on rural economic development and sustainability. Topics can range from connecting communities to parks and trails, to developing cultural resources and art projects, to reconnecting communities to food systems. I look forward to learning with you!

Connor Mulvaney


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