Priming the Sustainability Talent Pipeline: Indiana Sustainability Development Program
Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana University Kokomo, Indiana University South Bend, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)
The Indiana Sustainability Development Program (ISDP) is a privately funded sustainability workforce development initiative led by Sustain IU (the Office of Sustainability at Indiana University), which pairs students with organizations across the state of Indiana that are seeking sustainability expertise. While internships are traditionally thought of as a student-development opportunity, ISDP genuinely builds capacity and knowledge of its partnering organizations via well-trained and highly talented students who serve as a conduit between the organization and the extensive academic, research, and operational expertise of Indiana University. The program has many positive impacts: it provides invaluable work experience for students (even during the pandemic, when other student opportunities have decreased); it increases the capacity for the completion of sustainability work across the state of Indiana; and it continues to play a role in normalizing sustainability and climate action work in a challenging context. The program is innovative in its cross-sector approach—placing students in businesses, non-profits, and cities across Indiana—and using those cross-sector partners to collaboratively inform and lead student training. The program also recognizes sustainability as a unique interdisciplinary challenge and recruits students from all academic disciplines at IU. This enriches our student cohorts and communicates that each discipline has a role in creating a sustainable future. Finally, the program is truly a sustainability effort where students have a real-world opportunity to understand the multi-dimensional nature of the sustainability challenge, internalizing the different foci and intersections between economy, environment, and equity. The remainder of this case study shares how and why the program has developed, details of implementation, as well as the different financial and conceptual pieces of the program that could be replicated at other universities.
Research by the Joint Economic Committee in the United State Congress ranks Indiana in the bottom 20% of states in terms of higher education talent retention. This ranking reflects a trend that Sustain IU (Office of Sustainability) staff had witnessed for years: many of our most talented, well-trained, and passionate sustainability students graduate from Indiana University (IU) and leave to pursue sustainability careers on the coasts. While talent continues to flow out of the state, Indiana faces a myriad of sustainability challenges. By mid-century, Indiana is expected to experience a 5-6° F increase in average temperature and more frequent extreme rainfall events leading to increased heat related illness, spread of disease-carrying insects, as well as stress to fresh water supply (Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment 2018). Due in large part to an industry heavy economy, addressing greenhouse gas emissions is critical in Indiana, where the state ranks 5th in terms of CO2 emitted per capita and 6th in terms of total energy related CO2 emissions (Energy Information Administration, 2016 data). These challenges already impact the citizens of Indiana, whose home state ranks 49th in terms of pollution and related public health risks (see US News).
Meanwhile, sustainability-minded students at IU benefit from a vibrant on-campus sustainability internship program, an undergraduate research program in sustainability, training at the top ranked O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, as well as research strengths in sustainability due to the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and the Environmental Resilience Institute, both of which are focused on climate issues and challenges with managing common pool resources.
In Fall 2016, Sustain IU staff were considering the collective state-wide challenges, as well as the wealth of Indiana University’s student talent, and identified an opportunity to match these issues to make a sustainability difference in the state. Although IU had some off-campus internship programs related to environment, the institution lacked a cohesive, institution-wide, multidisciplinary effort to apply student talent beyond the campus boundaries. By converging the above challenges with student talent, Sustain IU created the Indiana Sustainability Development Program (ISDP), a sustainability professional development program that trains and places intelligent and capable IU students in summer internships across the state of Indiana in partnership with sustainability minded cities/municipalities, businesses, and non-profits. The program is generously supported by the McKinney Family Foundation, as well as by different partnership organizations across Indiana that host our student interns and recognize the value of the program. Summer 2020 will be the program’s fourth summer, with 26 placements despite the challenges with COVID-19. Before the pandemic, the program showed tremendous year-to-year growth in terms of the number of student placements, external funding support for the program, and the number of organizations across the state that applied to participate. Throughout the rest of this case study, we will show how this innovative model of off-campus sustainability engagement has generated great results for IU students and for partner organizations across the state of Indiana.
References: Energy Information Administration. (2019, February 27). EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/state/analysis/ Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment report released in March 2018. For more information, visit https://ag.purdue.edu/indianaclimate/indiana-climate-report/ US News & World Report. (n.d.). These States Have the Least Amount of Pollution. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/natural-environment/pollution
The Indiana Sustainability Development Program is a workforce development program that combats the loss of workforce talent in sustainability by connecting the wealth of talent produced by IU’s outstanding academic programs to sustainability needs across Indiana. The core objectives are to:
• Prepare students for sustainability careers through full-time summer employment and through trainings informed and led by business, city, and non-profit partners. • Provide valuable capacity for partner organizations through impactful summer internships. • Demonstrate the cross sector need for sustainability expertise in Indiana; connect students with potential employers in the sustainability sector; demonstrate that sustainability work in Indiana can be impactful and rewarding; retain talent. • Normalize sustainability work in Indiana across all sectors.
The project began in Fall 2016 with the search for a funding partner and engagement with that partner in a project co-design process. The McKinney Family Foundation (www.mckinneyfamilyfoundation.com/) was our initial funder and remains our primary partner in this work.
Now in the program’s fourth year, there is an annual cycle to the work that we’ve captured below. Within each major stage of work, you will also see how partners, both internal to IU and beyond the University, are engaged in the effort. Sustain IU’s work is done primarily by the Program Manager, who is staff with Sustain IU, and by the University Director of Sustainability. Other Sustain IU staff members support the effort periodically throughout the year.
September-November: Evaluate, Plan, Recruit
• Evaluate success from the summer internship: Sustain IU conducts pre and post intern surveys to gauge successes and opportunities from the student perspective. Sustain IU also conducts a survey of student supervisors at each partner organization/host organization to understand their satisfaction level with the program and with student work. In addition, the Program Manager conducts summer “site visits” to evaluate the progress of the work and to identify areas of improvement. All of this data is evaluated in September of each year to inform planning for the subsequent year.
• Prepare plan for next year and present to McKinney Family Foundation: discuss changes and improvements to the program and secure funder support for those adjustments. A variety of improvements to the program have come from the annual planning effort including: expanding recruitment of students from the Bloomington campus to include other system campuses—IU Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), IU South Bend, and this year, IU Kokomo; creating a pre-placement training, centrally located in Indianapolis with overnight accommodations for students; leveraging expertise and financial support from other units internal to IU; among other program improvements.
• Recruit partner organizations for next summer: identifying the Indiana businesses, non-profits, and cities where our students will work in the summer (partner organizations) is now an effort with support across the University. The Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI, a $50 million Grand Challenge program at IU, https://eri.iu.edu/) has supported by identifying interested organizations across the state. We also are supportive in this, and ensure a balance of urban and rural placements, by working with IU’s Center for Rural Engagement (https://rural.indiana.edu/ ). Finally, we draw on our network of sustainability faculty and staff at our regional campuses to identify interested organizations in their region. Potential partner organizations must submit an application to Sustain IU to be considered for a student placement. The application requires a clear explanation of what the student will work on, the impact the work will have on the organization’s sustainability efforts, an identified on-site supervisor/mentor, and an explanation of how the organization will support the student’s professional development (see program details, https://sustain.iu.edu/research/isdp/index.html).
December-February: Select and Secure Partnerships, Promote Summer Opportunities
• Select and Secure Partnerships: partner applications are evaluated by a team of internal University partners including Sustain IU staff, ERI staff, and sustainability staff or faculty from IU regional campuses. Partner organizations are selected based on the quality of their application (primarily), as well as their ability to contribute to the overall ISDP program—either through financial support or by helping with student training. The final list of partner organizations is complete by mid-December.
• Promote Summer Opportunities: once the partner organizations are selected, the associated placement opportunities are marketed to IU students at all participating campuses. Promotion involves social media, email, as well as attending various job fairs across the university. This marketing work is emphasized during this period, but is in reality a year-round endeavor.
March-May: Secure Funding, Select Student Interns, Plan Training
• Secure Funding: Once partner organizations are selected, we also follow up with any financial commitments they made in their application. Business partners are expected to pay the full cost of a summer internship, while cities and non-profits are expected to contribute on a sliding scale related to their overall organizational budget. Formal partnership agreements are processed through Sustain IU and signed by our Office of General Counsel and by the partnership organizations.
• Select Student Interns: Students apply to the program through an application that includes a resume, cover letter, and references. Top candidates are selected by an internal IU panel and matched based on student preference and the Program Manager’s assessment of fit. Students are typically selected and matched prior to Spring Break.
• Plan Training: Selected students are required to attend a 3-day training prior to beginning their summer placement. The training, or Bootcamp as we call it due to its short, intensive nature, is facilitated by Sustain IU but is the byproduct of collaboration with our partner organizations. Leaders in our partner organizations serve on panels about sustainability careers, lead sessions in their areas of expertise, and host site-visits and tours during the Bootcamp. For example, in summer 2019, Cummins Inc. hosted a Bootcamp session at their new LEED Gold building in Indianapolis, providing a tour of the building and Q&A with leadership about how sustainability is a driver of their business. This year, IU Center for Rural Engagement staff will lead a session on Asset Based Community Development and Sustainability, and the Executive Director of the Environmental Resilience Institute will address climate impacts and resilience in Indiana. Finally, the Bootcamp includes one-on-one work sessions between the student and their supervisor, during which they’ll come to agreement on how the student’s work will advance organizational sustainability goals and the student’s individual professional development.
June-August: Implement, Support Students
• Implement the Program: Sustain IU starts the summer by convening the Bootcamp in mid-late May. This year’s Bootcamp is held May 18-20. Student placements begin in early June and continue throughout the summer, with the expectation that students work a 40 hour work week.
• Support Students: the ISDP Program Manager tracks student progress and troubleshoots any problems through weekly work reports submitted by each student throughout their 11-week summer internship. This year, the 26 students are broken into 6 smaller peer groups, based on similarities in the type of placement and work they are doing. Sustain IU staff will host weekly, informal Zoom check-ins with each peer group over the course of the summer. All students will also be required to attend a weekly 1-hour seminar, which will cover the content in the book “Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming” as well as other core sustainability and professional competencies. These engagements provide the students with a peer support group, a reflective space so they can grow from the experience, and they offer some additional content rigor to the experience. All of this work is shared and communicated with students through a dedicated Canvas page, a commonly used online instructional/course tool.
The implementation section outlines annual workflow, however this program is entering its 4th summer, so here we detail key milestones, revealing the growth of the program and impact over its duration.
- October 2016: Sustain IU receives its first grant to establish ISDP from the McKinney Family Foundation (MFF). The gift amount was $125,000.
- Summer 2017: ISDP runs its first Bootcamp, 3 days in Bloomington and places 15 students.
- October 2017: Sustain IU receives its second gift from MFF for $213,500.
- Summer 2018: ISDP places 24 students and expands to include IU Bloomington and IUPUI students. The Bootcamp was held in Bloomington 3 days and 2 days in Indianapolis.
- October 2018: ISDP receives its third MFF gift of $196,500.
- January 2019: Sustain IU hires a full time program manager for ISDP.
- May 2019: Through development work with partner organizations, Sustain IU brings in an additional $65,000 to support ISDP for Summer 2019. These funds demonstrate that partner organizations see the value of ISDP.
- Summer 2019: ISDP has its largest cohort of 31 students, including students from IU Bloomington, IUPUI, and IU South Bend.
- Summer 2019: In collaboration with ERI, 8 students work with 8 different cities to help them complete their first city greenhouse gas inventories, an essential first step to climate action planning.
- September 2019: Sustain IU establishes partnership with IU’s Center for Rural Engagement to place students with organizations in rural southwest central Indiana. Through grant work with ERI, ISDP receives $30,000 from Duke Energy to support student internships focused on greenhouse gas inventory and climate action work.
- October 2019: Sustain IU receives its fourth gift from MFF of $184,600
- March 2020: Sustain IU decides to proceed with the first ever telework ISDP cohort due to COVID-19. Sustain IU still raises an extra $50,000 in support and maintains 26 student placements for summer 2020. Sustain IU moves the Bootcamp to an online platform.
ISDP is 100% privately funded through support from the McKinney Family Foundation (MFF) and the partner organizations that host our student interns each summer. Sustain IU has steadily increased the funding by partnership organizations so that the program is not as dependent on the generosity of MFF. Corporate sponsorship coupled with some “skin-in-the-game” from non-profits and cities demonstrates one way in which ISDP is a model for other schools, where an off-campus workforce development program could be initiated without a major gift. We share a basic 2018-2019 budget below because it shows this potential, prior to the COVID-19 crisis. It is worth noting however, that even with an online Bootcamp, and telework for all placements, we are placing 26 students this summer and expect to bring in 50K in corporate sponsorships.
Program Need/Item Cost Program Manager Cost $56,000 Bootcamp (student training) $5,000 Program evaluation $1,500 Outreach and marketing $2,000 Partner Development $1,000 Software and Support for City GHG inventory $10,000 Student Scholarships and Fellowships $87,600 Full year grad fellowship $20,000 Travel $1,500 Total Costs $184,600 Non-MFF revenue* $65,000
*Although this budget may appear out of reach as a model for some universities, closer examination shows the possibility of starting a small program and then expanding. First, the program manager cost was only added in year 3 of our program after significant growth. In the first two years, the work of the Program Manager was in-kind by Sustain IU staff and through graduate assistants at reduced cost (~ 5K) for one year. The 20K for full year fellowship could also be removed, when looking at this as a model; we have since eliminated that program as part of ISDP. Finally, the $87,500 for scholarships and fellowships are left as the bulk of the cost; this is the money to pay students for summer work. Of note here is that we brought in $65,000 from partner organizations for this purpose, so that could be used to offset much of these costs. At $4800 for undergraduate placements and $6000 for graduate internships (average $5,400), the $65,000 from partnership organizations is enough to cover a starting program with 12 student placements—enough to demonstrate value. The other program costs would be much reduced as well with a smaller program. In short, some seed money would be required, but this budget shows that with modest investments from partnership organizations, an initial off campus workforce development program of 10-12 students is in reach. If readers of this case study have specific questions about our program, we welcome your questions. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ISDP has a tremendous record of growth, detailed in the figure below. We have not included data from summer 2020 because all data is not finalized and because COVID-19 has created an outlier year, disrupting some program growth.
FILE UPLOAD - Please see Figure 1
To report more specific project results, we will return to our original objectives. Results are in italics under each objective.
1) Prepare students for sustainability careers through full time summer employment and through trainings informed and led by business, city, and non-profit partners.
Between 2017 and 2020, we placed 68 students in 63 different partner organizations across the state. Because we have repeat partner organizations and student interns, these totals appear different from the year by year totals reported in the figure above.
Our placements have been across sectors and include organizations with widely different resources and challenges. The partners are listed in the table below:
FILE UPLOAD - Please see Figure 2
Our student training has been viewed favorably by both students and partners. The Bootcamp from 2019 was our best yet, where 75% of students and partners felt that the Bootcamp adequately prepared students for their summer placements. 73% strongly agreed that that they developed new skills during the Bootcamp training and 100% indicated that they grew professionally as a result of their ISDP placement.
Qualitative responses in our assessment surveys offered numerous student reflections that highlight the importance of these opportunities for student professional development.
Andrew Martin, 2018 ISDP extern, City of Bloomington Economic and Sustainable Development Department: “Working with the Economic and Sustainable Development (ESD) has pushed me to think ‘big picture,’ and helped me think about sustainability in a more holistic manner. I really value the work I have been a part of at ESD, and I believe it will have long-lasting impacts on the daily lives of Bloomington residents.”
Alexis Davenport, 2018 ISDP extern, Growing Places Indy: “My ISDP experience was truly enjoyable and I firmly believe that it provided me valuable professional experience that I will utilize in future endeavors. I would recommend the program to anyone looking for professional experience that involves community engagement and sustainability. I have had several internships throughout my studies and this proved to be the most significant of them all. Furthermore, I am delighted to share that I will be joining Growing Places Indy for a pilot market program during this fall semester —I am so fortunate to continue working with the organization.”
We are also proud that all of our student placements really entail true multi-dimensional sustainability work. For brevity we only include excerpts from two position descriptions here as evidence, but all of our positions touch on multiple dimensions of sustainability. The first example below is for work this summer with the City of Elkhart, which touches on the environment (reducing GHGs), stakeholder involvement (with an equity and inclusion component), and like all climate action planning, must consider the financial bottom line. The second project description example is for a placement with Hillenbrand, a furniture company that is working on corporate social responsibility; the work involves company finances and efficiency, as well as company values and overall social-environmental impacts.
Position Description 1:
“The City of Elkhart seeks a highly motivated student to assist with the development of a climate action plan during the summer 2020. Completing a climate action plan provides communities with a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. The successful applicant will be hired through Sustain IU, Indiana University’s Office of Sustainability.
The extern will learn a replicable skill and gain valuable experience in greenhouse gas analysis, emissions reduction planning, and working in local government. They will also develop technical and project management skills beneficial to a career in climate science, policy, environmental management, and related fields….”
Engage with community members and stakeholders to receive input and feedback
Promote opportunities for the public to engage with plan development
Communicate with government agencies, industries and local government officials to develop actionable emissions reduction goals…
Utilize Microsoft Excel and ClearPath to execute moderately complex data analysis…”
Position Description 2:
The Corporate Sustainability Intern will assist with the execution of our Materiality Assessment, Corporate Social Responsibility programming, and begin to help compile key analytics, and help communicate to both an internal and external audiences to a message specific to the CSR space. The role will help the Public Affairs dept. with the collection of sustainability-related data; validating that the date is complete, accurate and consistent using the guidelines set, identifying developing and implementing process improvements, and supporting other sustainability-related initiatives. This position is responsible for supporting a culture of corporate responsibility through engagement and collaboration that align with Hillenbrand’s strategy, goals and objectives…”
2) Provide valuable capacity for partner organizations through impactful summer internships.
Valuable additional capacity can be difficult to measure, however we have two data points that suggest the program is delivering in this respect. First, surveys of supervisors were overwhelmingly happy with student performance. 100% of supervisors in 2017, 96% in 2018, and 100% in 2019, indicated that they would consider hosting a student again the next year.
We also have lots of qualitative data that suggests success. As an example, the Executive Director of a Metro Planning Commission (Marta Moody, Delaware-Muncie) state the following:
“We are very lucky to have Nicky. She has added to our capacity tremendously. In addition to the GHG inventory, she is working on provisions for a solar ordinance. She’s pulling together background information, including what kind of backlash to be prepared for. This is something we are working on internally, and we’ve had outside people ask about it. There are farmers that are already being contacted by solar companies. This research will also be useful for the planning commissioners.”
3) Demonstrate the cross sector need for sustainability expertise in Indiana; connect students with potential employers in the sustainability sector; demonstrate that sustainability work in Indiana can be impactful and rewarding; retain talent.
Answering the question of whether our student placements have led organizations to view sustainability as a need in their organization is difficult, however, returning partnership organizations is one indicator. The table above provides full information, but to summarize, 19 organizations have hosted students for multiple years, with several hosting 3 or more years. These repeat organizations range in size and capacity from small nonprofits to mid-size municipalities to large multi-national corporations across sectors. The strength of these partnerships clearly demonstrates the need for in-house sustainability talent and value that partners find from the work our students complete.
This need for sustainability can also be seen in job growth in sustainability within the partnership organizations. One great example is the creation of new sustainability jobs is the City of Goshen. In 2019, the City of Goshen hosted its first ISDP student, Bronson Bast. During his 10-weeks in Goshen, Bronson developed a local government operations and community-wide GHG emission inventory as well as assisting with other sustainability projects. Because of Bronson’s excellent work, the City saw such value from having this in-house sustainability talent that they launched a new department to carry on his progress: the Department of Environmental Resilience.
According to the new Department’s webpage (https://goshen.guide/content/goshen-department-of-environmental-resilience/) their goal is to help promote and protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the community, to enhance and protect the environment, to promote economic development and to promote the planting, maintenance and removal of trees within the City of Goshen. Having a really successful intern help Goshen see the need and value of this type of expertise on staff.
The story of how ISDP helps with sustainability talent retention in Indiana will unfold over the coming decade. That said, 66% of students who have participated are still working or interning in Indiana. 84% of students from the summer 2019 cohort stated that they are now considering a sustainability career in Indiana after graduation because of their experience in ISDP.
4) Normalize sustainability work in Indiana across all sectors
Though this was not an original goal of ISDP, we’ve begun to see that a statewide program like ISDP plays an important role in making sustainability, and specifically climate action work normal. ISDP continues to elevate Indiana University campuses as problem solvers in Indiana. Our work since 2017 shows the potential for off-campus partnerships that benefit both partner organizations and the University financially and programmatically. In part because of our efforts, sustainability work is quickly gaining traction across Indiana as a highly valued, professional job, not just a passion project or edict from an ivory tower.
A great example of how the program has normalized sustainability work can be seen within the subset of our interns that have worked on GHG inventory and climate action in Indiana cities. In large part because of our student work and collaboration with the Environmental Resilience Institute, 8 of the 10 largest Indiana cities have now completed a community-wide GHG inventory, covering 35% of the state’s overall population. These inventories represent the GHG emissions from 2.35 million Hoosiers. It’s important to note that several of these communities have reputations for being conservative and not typically thought of as environmentally-conscious. The impact of this work continues to reach across the political divide, normalizing sustainability and climate work as integral to every community.
• The linked video explains what ISDP does and how it is normalizing climate work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6zJ8qr96Xs • And linked article: https://www.thenewsdispatch.com/news/article_73730537-a91c-5854-89f6-a08ac8b2ba92.html
Sustain IU has learned many lessons over the nearly 4 years of ISDP. Certainly a first lesson with ISDP is that any program or initiative must be intentional about collecting data, analyzing it, and then adjusting and improving the program. This cycle of assessment, covered in the implementation section, has been one benefit of working with a major funding organization (McKinney Family Foundation) that wants to know year-in and year-out the program is delivering results. Regardless of whether this sort of cycle is imposed upon an organization or is created due to anticipated need, it has been important. Designing ISDP as a learning organization has led to numerous program improvements, both large and small. Among others it has led to:
• An improved Bootcamp (pre-internship training) that is increasingly focused on creating a clear plan for summer work and building essential sustainability competencies, like communicating sustainability to diverse audiences, employing systems thinking, and quantifying the market value of sustainability interventions.
• Stronger and more diverse internal IU collaborations with regional campuses and with supporting units, like the Environmental Resilience Institute and the Center for Rural Engagement.
• Expansion of funding beyond the McKinney Family Foundation and now including support from partner NGOs and cities, and most importantly through corporate sponsorship with affiliated businesses. We have also received support from Duke Power. All of this work was born from reflection on the strength of the program and knowing that it must move beyond core dependence on a single funder.
• Placement of talented students from regional campuses into work within their communities or region. Through discussion with our partners, we developed a hypothesis that this may be an especially fruitful way of combating brain drain. With each cohort and added regional campus, we are actively testing the hypothesis.
• Ensuring that the program does not become affiliated with one academic unit or another, but rather is open to students from all majors and disciplines. Since the start of the program, we’ve supported students from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs; College of Arts and Sciences at Bloomington, IUPUI, IU Kokomo and IU South Bend; School of Social Work at IUPUI; Lilly School of Philanthropy; the Media School; the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering; School of Public Health; and the School of Global and International Studies. We’ve found this enriches the student cohort and allows us to better match student professional development goals with partner organization needs (e.g. a media school student working on sustainability communication, or geographer with GIS skills doing urban green infrastructure mapping).
In short, the types of improvements above are only possible through consistent data collection, analysis, planning, and intentional program adaptation.
Sustain IU has also learned that sustainability staff can be the essential connector between off-campus sustainability challenges, University resources, and sustainability related philanthropy in state. Success in these intersections stems from the ability to frame the challenges in your state and community in compelling ways and to get that case in front of potential funders. In our case, drawing the connection between talent retention and sustainability challenges resonated with the McKinney Family Foundation (MFF). We didn’t just happen to know how to frame the issue, however, rather we demonstrated an openness to collaborate with MFF, to co-design a program that matched their purpose and objectives. This was the key to our early successes in fund development.
ISDP has indeed thrived because of the financial support provided by MFF, but that major gift scenario may not be easily replicable. Acknowledging that fact, we also think that the financing entry in this case study shows that starting small with an off-campus workforce development program in sustainability is possible for other universities. In short, a small program could be launched with in-kind support from university sustainability staff, when combined with financial support from committed partners across sectors.
At Sustain IU, we have found that ISDP is having impacts beyond what we might have otherwise thought possible. We have placed students in small communities like Jasper and Huntingburg, Indiana, where prior sustainability was either ill-defined, completely of the radar, or even dismissed as a luxury concern. After having students work in those contexts, sustainability has been accepted as an important concern. Our most notable data to support this has been with climate action where our GHG inventory work has begun to normalize that type of work in a politically conservative state.
In summary, ISDP is a valuable program and is very much like many campus-as-a-lab efforts, except that the student experiential learning extends beyond the campus boundaries. This has created win-win scenarios much like what is emblematic of strong campus-as-a-lab programming. Increasingly, we view ISDP as an extension of our existing campus-as-a-lab programs, like our sustainability internship (https://sustain.iu.edu/research/internship/index.htm ) on campus and our undergraduate research program in sustainability (https://sustain.iu.edu/research/scholars/index.html). Indeed those programs feed into ISDP, where ISDP is the capstone experience allowing students the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills learned on campus to partners across the state.
Finally, the ultimate test of value has been the global pandemic. Demand for this program has persisted through this difficult time, with 26 of the 34 selected partner organizations for this year continuing with the program, despite having to move to an online, telework model. We have found this to be a lesson in resilience for all participants and partners, and are proud to continue moving forward in era in which many student internships and hands on learning experiences have evaporated.