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Deep Roots: The IC/EcoVillage Partnership

Written by Meredith Farley

IC intern Drea Kasianchuk '11 works in the onion patch at EcoVillage. Photo by Jeff Goodwin '10

Ithaca College’s environmental studies program has been growing steadily since its inception. The addition of new majors and opportunities has given students the chance to explore their own ideas and learn from the experiences of others in the field.

One of the most exciting of these is IC’s partnership with EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI), a sustainable living community located just minutes from the College.

“These courses in sustainability are a good way to develop a focus for our program, and the partnership with EcoVillage gives our students the use of facilities that very few other programs have access to."

From evaluating green houses to researching the plausibility of planting heirloom crops, students apply what they’re learning in class to real-life problems at EVI. Courses in environmental studies are taught collaboratively between IC professors and EVI residents to ensure that students receive the most relevant and practical education.

“These courses in sustainability are a good way to develop a focus for our program, and the partnership with EcoVillage gives our students the use of facilities that very few other programs have access to,” says Susan Allen-Gil, assistant professor of biology.

“It also gives them hope. The breakdown of ecological systems is largely due to human intervention. Studying sustainability lets students know there are alternatives to environmental degradation.”

The community spirit of EVI was tapped about seven years ago when IC reached out to EcoVillage. The collaboration “is like a ripple effect -- one thing leads to another,” says Tina Nilsen-Hodges, EcoVillage resident and co-coordinator of IC’s sustainable education program. “We’re building a network with a foundation of knowledge.”

The city of Ithaca has always been known for its progressive thinking. Many Ithacans have made their daily lives more eco-friendly by walking to work or using canvas bags during their weekly trek to the grocery store.

Over time, these small changes can make a big impact. The residents at EVI have gone the extra mile and practice sustainable living in almost every aspect of their daily lives.

An EcoVillage resident prepares a salad at the weekly communal dinner. Photo by Mike Grippi '10

An EcoVillage resident prepares a salad at the weekly community dinner.

EcoVillage was the first co-housing neighborhood in New York State, and the 25th in the United States. There are 60 houses in the complex, which is comprised of two neighborhoods, FROG and SONG. Construction of TREE, the third village, is currently underway.

The environmental studies courses take a hands-on learning approach and strive to foster a learning community among the students themselves. “We take field trips to EcoVillage and other sites in the community,” says Nilsen-Hodges. “In the classroom, there is an orientation toward discussion and small group work, rather than lecture.”

As part of the Partnerships for Sustainability Education, Ithaca College offers mini-grants of $1,000 to educators at IC or EcoVillage who would like to develop or modify a course to incorporate sustainability into the educational experience.

Since the beginning of this program in 2003, nearly 60 grants have been awarded to College faculty, staff, students, and EcoVillage residents. Educators have reworked traditional course topics from art history to psychology to incorporate a sustainable perspective.

IC students are reaping the benefits of sustainability education, but the collaboration is also having an impact on EVI and the greater Ithaca community.

This September, one student’s project proposal -- the building of the New Roots Charter School, a sustainable high school in Ithaca -- will be put into action.

The goal is to create a sustainability-based high school in which students are taught through a variety of theories and practices. New Roots will open in September with an anticipated 125 ninth- and tenth-grade students.

The creation of a true learning community between Ithaca College and EcoVillage is an inspiring example of the potential that lies in collaboration.



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