During his introduction of Professor Mark Mitch, 2009 recipient of the Robert A. Kilgore Faculty of the Year Award, Dr. Don Melander described a person with a seamless connection between his teaching and his life. The award was presented to Professor Mitch at the College’s May Commencement, not only for his exemplary teaching but for his ability to integrate his innovative work in sustainability with the mission of the College and the curriculum of his classes.
2009 Robert A. Kilgore Faculty of the Year Award
Associate Professor of Environmental Science
This year, first-year students at New England College will get an early introduction to Professor Mitch’s passion for sustainability. “We are looking at what we can do at orientation to start students off with an understanding of the importance of recycling and the use of resources,” he said. He hopes to get students fired up about a program to recycle paper on campus. “The recycling of paper at NEC is not as organized as the initiative to recycle bottles and cans. We are very pleased with the community’s response so far. Even those who were initially skeptical have been supportive of the next steps.”
Concerned with the College’s physical appearance, Professor Mitch is looking for ways to minimize the litter on campus, particularly cigarette butts. “As small as that would seem, it can leave a big impression on visitors in terms of how our campus looks,” he noted. “These are small steps that we can take to contribute to the community.”
Looking farther out, Professor Mitch will begin work this summer on a community garden. “This is a multi-year project,” he noted. “This year we will start with preparing the ground, removing grass and plants, and assessing the quality of the soil.” The proposed garden will be located behind Rowe Barn on Western Avenue where there is a large open area and room for parking. “This will be a collaborative effort between students at the College and members of the local community. The town’s response has been very enthusiastic. Our plan is to provide plots where people can grow what they like and ultimately, something that could contribute to dining on campus.” Professor Mitch points out that, on many campuses, organic gardening and sustainable living are often an extension of the institution’s sustainability programs.
Reflecting on what sparked his interest in the sustainability movement, Professor Mitch cited two factors: the College’s commitment to sustainability by incorporating it into its mission and values; and the enthusiastic response of students to his 2006 class in environmental ethics. “This interest and commitment inspired me and gave me the realization that this was something we needed to pursue,” he remarked.
According to Professor Mitch, it is important for institutions like colleges and universities to adopt environmentally sustainable practices and demonstrate how the infrastructure needed to support these practices can work. He believes the recent appropriations funding received by the College through Congressman Paul Hodes’ office is an opportunity to further the cause of sustainability both inside and outside the classroom. “Educating students to be the next generation of professionals in the country’s expanding green economy is crucial,” he explained. “Our graduates will be playing a critical role in rebuilding, and in some cases, reinventing the sustainable practices that will be incorporated into our personal and professional lives.”
Another positive indication of the College’s emphasis on sustainability is the addition of a third related academic major. “The College already has popular programs in environmental science and environmental studies,” noted Mitch, “But this fall we are adding a major in sustainability to the mix.” According to Professor Mitch, the new sustainability major connects elements of environmental science with sound business practice to provide graduates with managerial skills and the ability to work with other organizations or local and federal government. This summer, Professor Mitch plans to attend a conference at San Diego State University on integrating sustainability across the curriculum and the campus. “We will be looking at opportunities to engage the entire campus on a variety of levels including ways to make sustainability relevant to everyone’s interests.”
Upon his return, Professor Mitch intends to continue his work for the Henniker Conservation Commission monitoring the water quality of the town’s 11 ponds. “There is a history of bacteria blooms in some of Henniker’s ponds that limits the full recreational use of the water and could even present a health risk,” he observed. “What we are trying to do is to get out in front of the problem to identify the source rather than to wait for a state issued public advisory that prevents the use of the water entirely.”
For Professor Mitch, the challenge is always making people aware of all the work that students, the College, and the Town of Henniker are doing. “Once they know about it, people are very supportive. But they have to come to the realization that this is something we should do in the most cost effective way. Once that happens, they are more likely to take care of where they live and encourage others to do the same. For our students, sustainability demonstrates that the issues facing our community aren’t restricted to a single place. It becomes one more example of how they can transform the world around them.”