Rural by DesignGAMBIER, Ohio (September 17, 2010) The McGregor Fund has awarded Kenyon a $248,500 grant to launch a three-year program intended to help shape rural sustainability and foster local economic development for decades to come.
Rural by Design, conceived and directed by Professor of Sociology Howard Sacks, will nurture rural sustainability in Knox County as a national model with international range. The program will fortify the relationship between the Knox County community and Kenyon, spark collaboration among faculty and programs within the College, and provide opportunities for student internships and entrepreneurial initiatives. The program will conclude in the spring of 2013 with an international conference.
About 200 students will participate in the program, and twenty-four internships will be developed over three years, along with student-faculty summer research opportunities.
"Rural by Design is an attempt to design an approach to ensure the long-term vitality of rural character," Sacks said. "The challenge is to continue to maintain that sense of rural vitality in a rapidly changing society, when our local, rural communities are connected in so many ways to national and global forces."
Economic, social, and cultural advances are as crucial for rural sustainability, he said, as farmland preservation and environmental protection. The result is a stronger social fabric and a more vital community.
Rural by Design is an expansive culmination of thirty years of study at the College on rural issues, building on the seminal Food for Thought program that focused on local food production and markets. Rural by Design includes a set of interrelated projects, including sustainable-crop development and entrepreneurship, identification and development of "public spaces" for community interaction, and an international outreach that will include student and faculty exchanges with overseas programs.
"You have to look at this more holistically," Sacks said. "This is cutting edge in trying to see sustainability broadly."
With existing curriculum as a base, Rural by Design will identify courses that touch on rural sustainability in all areas of study, from chemistry to sociology, from economics to religious studies. As many as twenty faculty members will participate directly in the program through coursework, research, seminars, and "creative work" with students, Sacks said.
The nuts and bolts of the program start with earth and crops at the Brown Family Environmental Center. Rural by Design will foster "agro-ecology" and business opportunities through a pilot program for new farmers and students to develop sustainable crops on land at the environmental center. Ray Heithaus, Jordan Professor of Environmental Science and Biology and co-director of the environmental center, said about eight acres of land will be used to achieve goals that include organic techniques, soil-quality preservation, and crops marketed to local businesses.
Rural by Design, he said, represents an exciting opportunity. "Sustainability has to make sense for the person doing it," Heithaus said. "We're dedicated to being able to do this in 200 years, not just in two years."
New workshops and lectures on entrepreneurship will be led by Innovation Greenhouse, a Kenyon program funded through the Burton D. Morgan Foundation to cultivate entrepreneurial creativity. Ted Rice, director of Innovation Greenhouse, embraced Rural by Design as an opportunity for the College to learn from and contribute to the broader business life of the community. "Rural by Design is a really great way to explore the values of rural life," Rice said.
The "public spaces" wing of Rural by Design will include research into community crossroads, physical and virtual, and the development of activities to enhance their use. "The cultural character of this community is changing," Sacks said. "How are we going to find the opportunities to come together socially?"
A project on local cultural traditions and the emerging diversity in the community is expected to lead to better communication and an understanding of common goals. Sacks is teaching a year-long sociology course, Fieldwork: Rural Life, and it will conclude with a major exhibit on the changes in public spaces, to be displayed throughout the county.
An action plan for international study will create an exchange program among students, faculty, and experts. The Organization for Tropical Studies and the School for International Training program are examples of overseas outfits that may participate. The goal is to exchange knowledge about efforts to enhance rural sustainability worldwide.
The Center for Global Engagement, which coordinates study-abroad programs and smoothes the transition for international students, is directed by Marne Ausec, who will help identify better ways to integrate global education on the campus and in local public schools. A speakers bureau will make international students at Kenyon and Mount Vernon Nazarene University and American students who return to college after study abroad available to share their thoughts and experiences with local audiences.
The emphasis on sustaining rural life is an opportunity for innovation in the liberal arts, Sacks said. "I think this is not just a project to benefit the community. I think this is a project that is really central to the liberal arts in educating our students, because it enhances connection to place."
Research findings through the program will be shared through a website.
The McGregor Fund is a private foundation based in Detroit and established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor "to relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind." The foundation awards grants to organizations in human services, education, health care, arts and culture, and public benefit. The McGregor Fund has granted over $200 million since its founding and had assets of $150 million as of June 30, 2010. Visit www.mcgregorfund.org for more information.