Unity College is poised for new record growth in 2016-17 as it looks back on a successful 2015-16 academic year.

On May 14, America’s Environmental College conferred diplomas on 121 new graduates in the Class of 2016 who will bring a unique, rigorous, four-year curriculum in the sustainability sciences into an increasingly vibrant job market.

At Commencement, Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury told graduates their degrees were hard-earned, equipping them for meaningful careers that will create positive change in the environmental century.

“In your time at Unity, you researched the hemlock woolly adelgid, tracked bears, and discovered a new species of tardigrade. You completed internships and studied in Namibia, Australia, and Washington, D.C…. As you leave today, your Unity College family anticipates a lifetime of great things from you … as a sustainability professional, as an excellent human being, as a partner in sustainability, and as a global citizen.”

Commencement culminated an academic year that marked Unity College’s 50th anniversary and a third straight year of record enrollment. The year also saw a presidential transition, as the Unity College Board of Trustees appointed Khoury president, succeeding Dr. Stephen Mulkey on Jan 3.

In his first four months as president after several years as executive vice president, Khoury has overseen the financing and construction of two new energy-efficient buildings — an academic support center and the college’s third new residence hall in three years, both set to open in August — while refocusing staff and administration to focus on students first.

“I’m telling all of our employees, in everything we do, ask the question: ‘How does this serve students?’,” Khoury told a professional development meeting in his first weeks on the job. “If they’re not successful, we’re not successful. It’s as simple as that.”

Unity College is in the midst of a major multi-year buildout focusing on student success that included two $4.4 million fossil-fuel-free residence halls, opened in 2013 and 2014; a $1.1 million cafeteria expansion; and a new $6 million expansion project that includes an academic building with classrooms and a “Cooperative Learning Center,” plus a new energy-efficient residence hall for first-year students, to be completed in August.

The college also is repurposing Unity House — the nation’s first college president’s residence to be LEED Platinum verified — into lab and classroom space; and TerraHaus — the first college residence hall in the U.S. built to the Passive House standard — into offices supporting Unity’s sustainability science mission, bringing two of the signature buildings on campus into service as student support centers.

“The future is bright for our Class of 2016, for the Unity College campus and for those who choose to come here — be they women or men, traditional or nontraditional, first-year or transfer,” Khoury said. “It’s wonderful to see decisions we made last year continuing to foster progress for our students, this year and beyond. But we are not resting on our laurels.”

Khoury said Unity will complete a major item in its strategic plan this summer when it rolls out its first-ever graduate degree program — and the first program ever offered completely online.

Unity College expects its fourth straight year of enrollment growth, with Fall ’16 expected to be the school’s largest enrollment ever.

Commencement activities included a keynote address from environmental entrepreneur Rue Mapp, whose innovative approach to organizing and educating has connected thousands to nature and sparked interest in new environmental professions.

Khoury, who conferred an honorary degree upon Mapp at Commencement, said “she personifies the value and efficacy of choosing an environmental career, especially for those who are most impacted by environmental problems.”

Mapp — founder of the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro — told graduates their training in Unity College’s unique brand of transdisciplinary education will serve them well in the working world. “No longer can we work in our own silos separate from others,” she said.

Hailing from 20 U.S. states, the Unity College Class of 2016 is entering the best job market in a decade. A recent report by the U.S. Labor Department found that while the overall U.S. unemployment rate was 5 percent in April, the rate is only half that for college graduates.

“The freshest grads — the ones getting diplomas this month — are particularly attractive to employers,” Andrea Koncz, research director for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, said in a National Public Radio interview.

The Unity College Class of 2016 encounters an economy that increasingly seeks sustainability training. A Brookings Institute report estimated “green jobs” employed some 2.7 million workers in 2011 in a diverse group of industries.

Unity’s annual Commencement featured several sustainability initiatives, including:

  • Unity’s caps and gowns are made of 100% post-consumer plastic bottles. The OakHill GreenWeaver product is made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles and woven with a matte finish. An average of 23 bottles are used to make each gown (since 2008).
  • Dining Services works with local vendors and provides menus with up to 60% sustainably grown local food, much of it organic (since 2001), with college-owned McKay Farm & Research Station providing greens and flowers.
  • Programs are printed on 100% post-consumer paper (since 2001).
  • The Senior Class Green Pledge. Voluntarily signed by the senior class, graduates “pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider, and will try to improve these aspects of any organization for which I work” (since 2009).
  • Bottled water has been replaced with reusable water bottles (since 2009).
  • 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Diplomas using soy inks: A software program was purchased so that all diplomas are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper and soy inks (since 2009).
  • Potted decorations replanted throughout campus: Some decorations used during commencement are borrowed or rented, others planted around campus. Unity College’s McKay Farms does all of the ceremony floral arrangements (since 2004).
  • Green gifts. The Maine state tree — a white pine sapling — is given to each graduate (since 1988).

The Unity College Class of 2016 (by state: municipality)

Arkansas: Fayetteville

California: Carson

Colorado: Peyton

Connecticut: Meriden, Noank, North Grosvenordale, East Hampton, Manchester, Thompson, Waterford, West Haven, Vernon

Florida: West Melbourne

Massachusetts: Norton, Boston, Monson, Melrose, Hubbardston, Whitman, New Bedford (2), Hudson, East Wareham, Shrewsbury (2), Haverhill, Danvers, Dudley, Charlton, Plainville, Somerset, Pembroke, Newbury

Maine: Fairfield, Guilford, Harpswell, Northport, Camden, Portland, Unity (2), Berwick, South Paris, Winthrop, Georgetown, Pittsfield, Limington, Saco, Waterville, Ellsworth, Newcastle, Palmyra (2), Charleston, Belgrade, West Springfield

Michigan: Bridgman

Minnesota: Stillwater

New Hampshire: Colebrook, Atkinson, Hampstead, Bow, Surry, Manchester

New Jersey: Milstone Township, Ocean City, Hamilton, Highland Lakes, Jackson, Southampton

New York: Lacawanna, Marathon, Larchmont, Pine City

Ohio: Marion

Oregon: Scotts Mills

Pennsylvania: Hummelstown, Temple

Rhode Island: Chepachet, Wakefield

South Carolina: Hilton Head

Texas: Houston, Corpus Christi

Virginia: Raphine

Vermont: Poultney

Friday, June 03, 2016