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St. Lawrence University launches sustainability program

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CANTON — In the spring of 2013, a dozen St. Lawrence University students will be immersed in a sustainable learning experience.

Universities spend a lot of time talking about sustainability as professors teach ecologically prudent lifestyles and administrators try to cut energy costs, but St. Lawrence students will have a chance to live it, said Catherine H. Shrady, director of the inaugural Sustainability Semester.

“They will live off campus but near enough that there will be some cross-fertilization,” she said. “The students will be living on site, will be ultimately growing most of our own food and in addition to doing all the chores of a working homestead, they’ll also be taking four classes and all of the classes will have something to do with sustainability.”

The semester will focus on different disciplines, including economics, philosophy, English, psychology and geology. Ms. Shrady said the program may choose to emphasize a different discipline each semester.

The program, based off of the university’s continuing Adirondack Semester, is the first of its kind, Ms. Shrady said.

“There are other universities that have campus farms and things like that, and there are off-campus programs where students go to ecovillages,” she said. “As far as I know, this is the first of its kind in terms of what we have envisioned it to be.”

The university has leased land from the Cornell Cooperative Extension for the program. Ms. Shrady envisioned modernizing a farmhouse on the property as one of the first projects her students will tackle.

“Early on there’s probably going to be a lot of building and energy projects,” she said. “If we want to expand beyond 12 students, then we’re going to look at building tiny houses or green building design.”

As part of their work farming and building, students will work with local farmers and organizations such as Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, she said. Even minutiae such as furniture will be considered with sustainability in mind.

Ms. Shrady said the inaugural class of students in the program will make decisions that will affect the program down the road.

“We’ll have them think about the impact that their decisions have,” she said. “We’re living a few miles from campus. Are we going to be driving back and forth? Are we going to be biking? What are we going to do with our waste? What kind of energy do we want?”

The program also involves an urban component. Students will travel to Boston for two weeks to study sustainable urban living and research issues such as transportation, planning and design.

By the end of the semester, participants should have a comprehensive understanding of what Ms. Shrady deems a crisis.

“This program is important because we are facing a global environmental crisis and we’re facing issues that will determine the survival for the human race,” she said. “It goes beyond what the human species has ever faced before, beyond world wars, yet we haven’t accepted that or mobilized to fight it in the way that we fought dictatorships and other forces.”

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