In fall 2019, the University of Colorado's Masters of the Environment (MENV) program will introduce the Clinic for Sustainable Solutions to its curriculum. A model frequently used in law and business programs across the country, the clinic will serve as a credit-bearing experiential learning opportunity that provides a direct service to selected clients. The 2019 clinic will partner with Engage Delta County, an initiative in western Colorado that is funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The innovative approach – spearheaded by faculty director Dr. Joel Hartter and food systems specialization lead Nicole Civita – was created to provide a unique style of learning and service to communities across Colorado. The course was added as an optional MENV elective, primarily to provide sustainability consulting to communities that otherwise wouldn’t have access to such services. Additionally, it equips students with an opportunity to create solutions for real-world environmental, social, and economic problems.
Students applied to join the clinic team in the spring of 2019. The 10 selected individuals will begin work in August with a pre-scoped project, alongside Civita and Hartter.
MENV was first introduced to Engage Delta County through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). After initial conversations, it was clear that the two programs were a good match – both MENV and Engage Delta County are working toward sustainable development at the "food-water-land-energy nexus."
Engage works in communities like Delta and Paionia to enhance job-driven skill development, expand local business, and foster innovation in agriculture and energy. While Civita and Hartter are still working on the scope of the clinic's project, they are confident that MENV will be able to further the organization's goals.
“It is no secret that rural Colorado communities are struggling to transition from extractive economies to more regenerative ones,” said Civita. “If we are to thrive as we meet an uncertain future, we must combat social and economic isolation.”
According to Civita, the best way to change the system is to build better values-based connections between rural and urban communities. The clinic does just that. “By assuming the roles of community partner and community-based learning provider, ENGAGE and the MENV Clinic are reaching out to build that bridge,” she said.
To help build a rural-urban bridge students will travel to Delta Country multiple times throughout the fall semester. They will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the western slope community by conducting interviews, convening relevant stakeholders, and analyzing local data. The end goal of the project will be to create a vision, strategic plan, and possibly a toolkit that Emerge will use for future operations.
Although the 2019/2020 school year will be the clinic’s first, Civita has high hopes for its success. She believes that MENV students can provide meaningful and actionable guidance to Emerge and the greater Delta County community, that will lead to a more sustainable local economy. At the same time, she is certain MENV students will walk away with valuable skills that will serve them in their future careers.
If all goes according to plan, the 2019 clinic will not be the last. “I am confident that the promise of clinical education within MENV will become apparent and this initial project will only serve to gather momentum,” said Civita.