Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Community college part of national `green jobs’ initiative

By LIZ PACHECO
Capital News Service

LANSING — Green roofs, solar panels and a native plant garden are among the green initiatives Grand Rapids Community College and Wilbur Wright College in Chicago are taking to become more efficient and environmentally friendly.

Related changes are happening in classrooms too, with curriculums redesigned to provide green job training.

Building on the efforts of these and other community colleges, the organizations Jobs for the Future and the National Wildlife Federation in Washington have created the Greenforce Initiative, a two-year drive to develop and enhance “green job” pathways and programs in six regions of the nation.

The objective is to support green job programs with funding and communication networks for participating schools.

Career programs are at the core of the effort. They target lower-skilled adults and non-traditional students, teaching them skills needed to get green jobs, said Gloria Mwase, the program’s director.

For many community colleges, the mission starts with greening their own campuses.

“For example, some might put up a wind turbine and do wind training on campus, said Juliana Goodlaw-Morris, who works in Michigan with the National Wildlife Federation and as Greenforce campus field manager for Illinois and Michigan. “Others might have to access something outside of campus to make it work. Everyone is taking a different focus.”

At Grand Rapids Community College, culinary students have a green roof.

Students there can also earn a windmill safety certificate for windmill technicians and participate in a green remodeling program. A few years ago, its Habitat for Humanity program joined a pilot program to build LEED-certified homes.

Now, every home built is LEED-certified, meaning it meets the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system standards for environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation.

The student congress and sustainability council have signed a resolution to ban bottled water on campus, and student groups held bottled water taste tests to debunk the myth that tap water is bad-tasting and poor in quality.

“I really believe it’s the students who are leading us in this direction,” said Moss Ingram, the director of sustainability and associate director of innovation at the college. “I’m very proud of this, and that we’re listening to the students, asking for their input.”

Funded by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Greenforce Initiative is planned for North Carolina, Seattle, northern Virginia and southern Texas. Michigan and metropolitan Chicago are the only Great Lakes regions included.

The regions were chosen for their access to community college campuses interested in or already working on ways to offer green job training and promote campus greening.

Mwase said, “We wanted to be sure that we weren’t encouraging colleges to train participants for jobs that do not exist,” she said.

Michigan is an ideal participant, she said, because its unemployment rate is among the highest in the country. Also, the Michigan Green Jobs Report for 2009 tallied 109,067 total green jobs available in the state, a number that is expected to rise because of emerging opportunities in the private sector.

In Michigan, the Greenforce Initiative is also funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The program collaborates with the Michigan Community College Association and its Alternative Energy Consortium and Breaking through Network.

Goodlaw-Morris said, “The program is really going to be focused on each campus networking and using best practice sharing — creating a community and cohort of schools that can come together.”

Blogs, Twitter, webinars, conference calls and face-to-face meetings will be used for networking.

For now, Greenforce Initiative has funding for only two years, but Mwase said the impacts are expected to last much longer.

Mwase said, “We hope that lessons learned from this initiative will become infused in the college and change the way the institution itself approaches the engagement of and support for lower-skilled adults.”

Liz Pacheco writes for Great Lakes Echo.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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