Higher education is changing.
One college in Maine, Unity College, known as America’s Environmental College, is modeling a new, more effective path for higher education. As the first college in the United States to embrace sustainability science as its central framework, Unity College is training students in the leading-edge of 21st century transdisciplinary (collaborative) environmental problem solving.
Explaining Unity College’s Popularity
The College has increased its incoming class by 18 percent over 2012. Seventy percent of the entire student body is choosing to live on campus, an impressive figure by general industry standards, says Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, Senior Vice President for External Affairs. He adds that the campus is at full residential capacity, with record number of juniors and seniors choosing to live on campus. This has prompted the College to immediately explore the construction of additional residential facilities. A campus at residential capacity is an indication of student satisfaction and strength of Unity’s social community, Khoury says.
Two of the most prominent factors that explain the increase, Khoury says, are Unity College’s focus on sustainability science and its improved academic profile, with the College being named to the 2013-14 Colleges of Distinction Guide, among other academic related honors received.
Khoury reports that Unity College’s gender balance and geographic diversity of the student body have never been better.
“For the incoming class of 2017, we are at 47% female and 53% male, which brings our overall gender balance on campus to 51% female and 49% male,” Khoury said. “The College is also more geographically diverse than ever before, with the overall student body attracting students from 39 states.”
At the Leading Edge: Sustainability Science
“Unity College is enjoying historic popularity in part because of its first-in-the-nation focus on sustainability science, which touches every aspect of the science-based, liberal arts experience we are offering,” noted President Stephen Mulkey. “We are training students to gain the skills that are relevant not just for their first job after graduation, but for their fifth. Our approach represents a sea change in higher education, addressing education in an expansive, comprehensive way that is turning the outdated lecture models that still plague higher education upside down.”
In recent years, Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements including its focus on sustainability science; its ground-breaking “green” innovations such as the award-winning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and for being the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education.
“Our students engage the world and are a part of everything the College does,” said Mulkey, who pointed out that students helped to design TerraHaus and lead educational tours through the building. “We empower our students to make a difference and prepare them to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century.”
The business of higher education is not business-as-usual at Unity College, which Khoury says is one explanation for its vast appeal and growing national reputation.
Though the College now enjoys its highest campus occupancy rate and greatest geographic diversity, it will continue to improve the diversity of its student body, says Khoury. Plans are underway to attract more international students.
Ensuring a Real World Relevancy
“What Unity has done is develop a model to ensure that graduates have the skills to be in demand the day that they graduate, and continue to be relevant as the green economy develops jobs that are not even in existence today,” Khoury said.
President Mulkey says that students deserve more from their college experience than lectures, laboratories, and a diploma at commencement. They deserve to be full partners in their own education, working within a supportive system that helps them make important connections across the disciplines, a fundamental feature of a Unity College education. Students pursue hands-on projects that link lessons from classes across the spectrum. They enjoy opportunities to gain valuable experience before they graduate, and many students study alongside faculty members, or are employed by academic studies.
A College of the World and Without Borders
The world is without borders for Unity College undergraduates and graduates alike, with many pursuing studies and careers in countries across the globe.
Derrick Maltman ’14, a Captive Wildlife Care and Education major from Zanesville, Ohio, spent the summer pursuing his dream internship at the Zoological Center in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Career Resource Center at Unity College arranged a Skype interview for Maltman with the Zoological Center in Tel Aviv. The interviewer spoke fluent English and said that Maltman’s inability to speak Hebrew would not pose an obstacle to the pursuit of a successful internship. Even so, Maltman began intensively studying the language once he was accepted for the internship.
While in Israel, Maltman wrote a blog about his experiences that was posted on the College website.
Some of Maltman’s classmates were employed by the groundbreaking Unity College Bear Study, an ongoing study of bear populations in central Maine that has attracted national attention.
“The first bear was caught on Saturday, May 11, in Newburgh, Maine,” explained George Matula, Associate Professor and project leader for the bear study at Unity College. The seven person capture team was led by Lisa Bates, Assistant Project Leader and a 2008 graduate of Unity College.
Bates first trained the student team on the overall process and intricacies of safely anesthetizing and handling a bear. The bear was captured in a culvert trap, a heavy-duty live trap designed specifically for capturing bears. Bates and several members of the capture team placed the trap in an area known to be visited by bears.
Campus Upgrades Will Continue
Students began the 2013-14 academic year on a campus that well serves both academic and community needs. Thirty projects have been completed over the summer alone, including the renovation of three science laboratories. Khoury says that other projects to enhance the campus in service to Unity College’s mission are anticipated in the coming years.
The proof of Unity College’s effectiveness is embodied by its graduates. Two recent graduates, Eli Walker of Locust Grove, Georgia, and Lucas Bellanceau of Woodstock, Connecticut, were able to begin their careers right after commencement thanks to the superior preparation that they received.
Walker is working in Namibia, Africa, at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, while Bellanceau works for the Maine Warden Service. Both were hired before they graduated.
Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.