During the 2013 academic year, third-year Environmental Studies and Environmental Science majors in the Community-Based Research Project course worked with area residents to develop the infrastructure for two internationally recognized initiatives designed to be rooted in the regions in which they are implemented.
For the first initiative, the class disseminated a Happiness Survey to the Colby-Sawyer community and surrounding towns. It is based on the principles of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that originated 40 years ago in the South Asian nation of Bhutan. Since its humble beginnings, the idea of developing alternative measures of human progress to the standard Gross Domestic Product has made its way into research and resolutions at the United Nations. The pursuit of happiness, as defined by GNH, involves measuring wellbeing across these nine domains: psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.
The students also partnered with a local resident task force to create the Kearsarge Valley Transition Initiative (KVTI) and develop positive localized solutions to address the regional impacts of larger global issues such as economic insecurity, environmental instabilities and dependence on non-renewable energy. The Transition Town movement, which originated in the U.K. in 2006, now represents more than 463 communities worldwide with another 600 more in progress. In May, KVTI was recognized as the 139th official Transition community in the United States.
The Community-Based Research Project course epitomizes Colby-Sawyer's goals to promote engaged learning, foster a sense of connection to the greater world, live sustainably and maintain a dynamic devotion to excellence.
Environmental Studies student Jon Wylie '14 likens the project to a job where each student utilizes his or her environmental education. "The course took those teachings and applied them on a local basis and challenged me to present them to all walks of life," he says.
"This class gave me the opportunity not just to talk about or research solutions but to be part of the change," says Environmental Studies major Paul Boynton '14. "One of the best parts was interacting with community members."
Boynton believes every college student should be invested in finding solutions. "It doesn't matter if you are a business student, an economics major or a nursing major. We can all find ways to contribute to a better tomorrow," he says. "The most important concept I learned this year is that change is possible.
Read the final report at www.colby-sawyer.edu/environmental/projects/project-2013.html.
-by Jennifer White '90, Sustainability Coordinator; Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies