Every year, Penn State Berks students enrolled in the college’s Environmental Science course complete community engagement projects addressing sustainability. The Environmental Awareness and Community Action Project has been a major component of the course, which has been taught by Mahsa Kazempour, associate professor of science education, since 2011.
This fall, Penn State Berks EACAP teams had a unique opportunity to partner with student teams from Moscow State University, a public research university in Moscow, Russia. The collaboration is part of Penn State’s Experiential Digital Global Engagement program (EDGE), which provides an accessible international education for students.
Last spring, Kazempour was selected for the EDGE program’s Virtual University Partnership (UniVIP) grant, which allowed her to collaborate with an MSU faculty member teaching a sustainability-focused business course. The joint project allowed Penn State Berks and MSU students to engage in weekly discussions, exchange information about their mutual research issues from different perspectives and learn about the community engagement service projects undertaken by each team.
One team of students commented, “Collaborating with a team from another country does come with some challenges, but with those challenges come learning experiences. Our team learned how to navigate inconveniences with the use of technology. This was also a learning experience for both teams involved; we gained knowledge from each other because of the difference in where we come from.”
Another student team stated, “On [MSU’s] end, they were researching the effects of a nearby cement plant on the soil in the area. Even though our project and research weren’t the same as the MSU team, we still had a meaningful conversation. Overall, I think everyone in both groups got some positive things out of this collaboration.”
At Penn State Berks, students research environmental issues on the local, national, or global level and engage in community-based projects to address sustainability issues in the Berks County area. During the fall 2022 semester, 10 teams worked with local community partners, including Berks County Conservation District and Southwest Middle School, to implement sustainability initiatives that protect the environment or educate the public, which included creating and cleaning up gardens in the local community by weeding and eliminating waste and painting the ceiling tiles in local middle schools to highlight issues of sustainability and the environment.
Some teams also completed extra hours by volunteering for multiple projects at the Penn State Berks greenhouse under the leadership of John Rost, research technologist in the horticulture department. The issues students decided to address included loss of biodiversity, food and other waste, and overconsumption and overproduction.
For more information on the EACAP project and to view each team’s service and research presentations and their reflection on the project, visit the Environmental Awareness and Community Action project website.