For the past several years, Unity College has been building out its Enterprise Education model, in which four key arms of the College — Distance Education, Hybrid Learning, Sustainable Ventures, and the Technical Institute for Environmental Professions — known as Sustainable Education Business Units (SEBUs), seek to discover new audiences and tailor the curriculum or services offered to best meet the needs of those audiences.
Each SEBU is led by a Vice President or Dean, and each Function is led by a Chief Officer (CO), both Heads of SEBUs report directly to the President. This is an extension of Unity College’s Leadership in Abundance, an organizational structure based on functionality and driven by data and introduced in 2015. Leadership in abundance gives the senior-level team first-among-equals responsibility in their area of focus.
Message from the President
Earth Day: Save the Planet Through (Higher) Education
April 21, 2021
The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, as a college teach-in about the state of our planet. The organizers chose the date because it was a weekday and fell between spring break and final exams, an ideal time to mobilize the nation’s college students, who were and continue to be the best hope of solving our world’s climate crisis.
At Unity College, “America’s Environmental College,” this belief—that we can save the planet through education—is our mission. Throughout our history, we have adapted to new information and new technologies to provide high-quality environmental education. Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic and its several highly contagious variants place new demands on all our institutions, it is also accelerating a new era of innovation and sustainability.
The Unity experience during this period has been instructive and may point the way to a level of higher education that is more sustainable in every way.
At the beginning of the current academic year, Unity College’s Board of Trustees voted to break away from the traditional residential campus model to focus on a mix of hybrid and online learning opportunities. The persistence of COVID-19 has suspended the in-person components of Hybrid Learning temporarily. Because we had previously developed in depth Distance Education curricula, however, our students did not lose any classroom time waiting for faculty to get up to speed with online learning. We were already there.
Not only do the Hybrid Learning and Distance Education models allow students to complete their degrees with the flexibility, they also reduce environmental stress on the physical campus. Consumption slows in a variety of ways, from commuter emissions to facilities maintenance and beyond. Through innovation, we can serve more students more effectively and at less cost—in both tuition and environmental impact—than would be possible if we relied exclusively on our physical campus.
While the financial impact of COVID-19 certainly expedited our plans, this transition is not simply a reaction to the pandemic. It is a critical next step in helping Unity College thrive and better serve our students in the 21st century, while also creating an educational model that is relatively pandemic-proof, and environmentally sustainable.
We already see the positive results of this decision, as reflected in our distance-learning adjustments of the past year. Our faculty and instructional designers have been able to build exciting courses that get students out into the natural world where they live, even during the recent lockdown.
For example, our course on Dendrology includes a hands-on project that allows students to develop their tree identification skills as they help to create public walking tours on the PocketSights app. These tours are now available in communities from Fair Haven, Vermont to Hamilton Township, New Jersey to Bloomington, Indiana.
In addition, our Wildlife and Fisheries Techniques class developed new projects that rely on simple digital technologies such as smartphone apps that help our students measure forest cover and develop habitat assessments. While they always report their findings back to their instructors, they can do this practical work on their own, wherever they may find themselves. This approach also creates new opportunities for students to learn about different habitats across the country where their classmates live, rather limiting the scope to the habitat surrounding a physical campus.
In the more than nine years since I came to Unity College, I continue to be inspired by our students’ passion for the environment. Regardless of background or major, every student shares a drive to help address pressing environmental concerns. To meet and reward their passion, Unity College must continue to set high standards in our academics and in our commitment to sustainability. We are learning every day how to serve them better.
The Unity experience, especially during the pandemic, has provided hard evidence to support a model of environmental education that may have seemed theoretical only five years ago. I have drawn a few simple but profound conclusions from our experiment.
First: The “environment” exists everywhere, not merely in the forests, mountains or water close to campus. We limit the size of our laboratory, artificially, when we insist that students study only in preapproved locations. There is more than enough “environment” to explore just outside our front doors, no matter where we are.
Second: Common cell phones and digital apps are now sophisticated enough to take the place of old-fashioned, delicate, expensive instrumentation. With a few quick downloads, anyone can be a naturalist. Anyone can participate in and contribute to the study of the natural world.
Third: Since the environment is everywhere and everyone can now observe it with some precision, an environmental education is no longer dependent on centralized resources. While in-person education remains a staple of Hybrid Learning, we are no longer place-bound as we once were. To a greater degree than ever, we can meet our students where they live, and learn from them as much as they learn from us.
I am delighted with our results so far. We are proving that a quality, affordable environmental education can be made available to people of any age and from all walks of life, as long as they are willing to work to save the planet.
As the American naturalist John Muir said, “Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.”
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury