As the first college in the nation to adopt sustainability science as a framework for teaching and learning, Unity College has successfully conveyed a strong message of educating for 21st century relevance to both prospective students and donors.
The young environmental college that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in September of 2015 welcomed an incoming class of 225 and overall student body of 589, both unprecedented milestones. Such success comes during a sobering time for colleges and universities across the United States, with many slashing budgets and altering recruitment strategies in an effort to simply break even or stem the rising tide of red ink.
The adoption of sustainability science — the vanguard for 21st century transdiscplinary (collaborative) environmental problem solving — has allowed Unity College to provide students with the comprehensive skills they will need to succeed, whether pursuing a career in the growing green economy or moving on to graduate studies. This message has an undeniable resonance with potential students, their parents, and a host of other constituents. It may explain why Unity is flourishing at a time when others are not.
“Unity College is uniquely well positioned to prepare students not just for their first job, but for their fifth,” noted Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, an internationally recognized scientist. “Our students learn broadly across the disciplines and develop skills that employers find immediately relevant and valuable. They learn how to work across the disciplines to solve problems, adapt over the course of their careers, and eventually become leaders within their field. A Unity College education transcends the silos that plague higher education. Sustainability science is clearly the answer to ensuring that higher education adapts to meet the challenges of the modern world.”
Modeling a New Path for Higher Education
As Unity College blazes a new path for higher education, the approaches that have brought success are hardly a secret. Mulkey has released a video calling for higher education reform through the broad application of sustainability science.
Students are not the only ones enthused by what the College is doing.
Annual donations have risen significantly to nearly $1 million dollars per fiscal year. Grants awarded to the College have also been on the rise, with one professor sharing in a $2.9 million dollar National Science Foundation Grant to support mathematics and biology education.
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, Executive Vice President and Liaison to the Board, has helped to plan and implement a period that marks the most significant overall expansion of the College in its history.
“The overall goal for Unity College is nothing short of building a beacon for others to follow,” Khoury said. “We strive to become one of the premier environmental colleges in the United States, and every bit of objective feedback at our disposal indicates that this is a realistic aspiration.”
Khoury and his advancement staff have facilitated donations that are immediately transformative, none more so than a 2013 gift by Isabel McKay and Rick Thompson of Brooks. They gifted Half Moon Gardens of Thorndike, Maine, a multifaceted greenhouse operation, to Unity College in part because they believed in the College’s potential to use it for maximum benefit. After a period of planning, the College opened The Half Moon Gardens and McKay Agricultural Research Station at the opening of the 2014-15 academic year in August.
The property, along with five years of financial support, is valued at over $1.2 million. This property supports hands-on learning in agriculture, provides ample research opportunities, helps students to develop farm management skills, and pursue “green” entrepreneurial projects.
Another world-class learning opportunity that is helping Unity College to reach its lofty aspirations developed just off the coast of Maine. Last year Unity College entered into a relationship that has brought research and educational projects to Allen Island, the family retreat of famed painter Andrew Wyeth. These projects are supported by The Up East Foundation, a Wyeth family philanthropic concern.
Building a World Class Campus in Unity, Maine
As the fall semester began, a host of infrastructural improvements and building projects completed over the summer immediately enhanced the quality of scholarship and campus life. Improvements included laboratories and classrooms renovated to meet top industry standards, facilitating the latest teaching methods; a significant cafeteria expansion that attracted generous grant support that allows the College to expand its offerings of locally sourced foods; the greatest expansion of new faculty and staff hires since the College’s founding in 1965; and completion of a 70 bed, 18,000 square foot suite style residence hall for upperclassmen built to LEED Silver standards.
Khoury says that the recently completed expansion and upgrade of Wyman Commons was the next logical step toward reduction of vendor dependency.
“Wyman Commons is designed to accommodate modern equipment that will enable Dining Services to store, process, and incorporate more locally-sourced produce,” Khoury explained. “Items include vegetable washers, potato peelers, juicers, grill, food processors, and a compost collector.”
Students voice their approval.
“I was absolutely stunned to see this spacious and comfortable new cafeteria space,” said Michael Rossi ’17, an Environmental Policy major from Methuen, Massachusetts. “I think this gives the cafeteria a 21st century feel. The sustainability aspects built into this cafeteria are also impressive. Dining services is able to increase the volume of locally sourced foods served. That is another important aspect of this renovation.”
The new design allows the kitchen to be closed during off hours while allowing the seating areas to remain open for student access. During off hours student clubs have a new place to meet, students have study spaces in a variety of configurations, among other uses that improve the quality of life for all members of the College community.
Partnerships, Online Learning and Graduate Degree Programs
The College recently entered into an online education partnership with business focused Thomas College of Waterville, Maine, which received support from The Unity Foundation. The College also hired Howard Davis as Director of Distance Education.
Dr. Michael Evans, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, is overseeing the creation of graduate programming for delivery within a year.
“Everything that we have achieved is in support of our strong environmental mission,” Mulkey stated. “We are attracting students who wish to spend their lives in service to the natural world, accepting the challenge of ensuring this planet is sustainable in perpetuity. The support we have received from donors reflects the resonance of our vision, delivery, and environmental focus. Excellence is not just a word, it is something that this entire community is committed to achieving each day.”