January 21, 2018
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Unity College ‘doubling down’ on sustainability

Community Author: Micky Bedell
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Micky Bedell | Unity College
Micky Bedell | Unity College

A recent case study in AGB’s “Innovation in Higher Education” initiative lays out exactly how Unity College is “doubling down on its commitment to environmental science and sustainability,” and how “Unity has successfully cultivated new revenue in creative ways.”

Building on the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Innovation in Higher Education, the association developed practical resources and case studies to demonstrate how institutions are pursuing innovation across the sector, hoping “that these resources prompt new thinking and discussion on a topic of great importance to our colleges and universities.”

The changing face of higher education has long been a topic of conversation at Unity, with the college pursuing a number of revenue-generating initiatives over the last five years.

“We have been using things that are historically viewed as overhead to generate revenue and train ourselves for major initiatives in this area,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “And with the adoption of the Enterprise Model we are now ready to take these incubator ideas to a much more substantial scale.”

McKay Farm and Research Station, gifted to the college in 2011, has become a cornerstone for creative revenue opportunities. The farm offers a wide selection of MOFGA certified vegetables through a farm stand, and supplies the Food Hub, local co-ops, Mount View High School, and Unity College with local, fresh vegetables. Growers can rent space in McKay’s greenhouses year-round, and students getting a degree in Sustainable Agriculture or Sustainable Business Enterprise get hands-on and business experience running a real greenhouse. The farm and research station also hosts classes, workshops and special holiday events ranging from Goat Agility Courses to Craft Fairs, and even an open mic night.

Over 3,600 lbs of produce from McKay during the academic year went to Unity College Dining — and that’s not counting the un-saleable produce gleaned from McKay and converted by dining staff into saleable products such as “McKay-chup,” hot sauce, herbed salt, and herbed butter. Unity College dining staff also provide innovative and creative culinary cuisine through Unity College Catering Services, working to provide sustainable and locally sourced menus for both college and community events.

Some of these events run their course at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts, built from a one-hundred-year-old barn with attached farmhouse. A vibrant cultural and arts center that offers an eclectic mix of music, films, art, lectures and more since opening in 2000, the UCCPA has seen many events, including world-renowned musicians, award winning speakers, and memorable community gatherings. It is also home to the Leonard R. Craig Gallery, featuring up-and-coming and renowned artists throughout the year. The building’s banquet hall is equipped with sound, four large-screen televisions, and tables with chairs to accommodate up to 150 guests, with a kitchen next door for easy catering.

Summer Programming at Unity College maximizes all these campus assets in the summer months, from food to event space to dorms. Faculty and staff coordinate environmentally science-based or thematic adventure camps on the school’s 225 wooded acres in the heart of Waldo County for teens and preteens, while also offering unforgettable adventures for a wide range of travelers through Unity College’s Eco Tours. Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking and camping in the stunning landscapes and scenic overlooks across the hills, rivers, and woodlands of Maine are key components of both programs. With students off campus in the hotter months, the entire campus is also available as an environmentally conscious event venue for corporations and retreats.

Staff at the Outdoor Adventure Center on campus can lead campers and corporations through team-building exercises on the college’s high ropes course, rock wall, or out in the woods and waters of Maine. But even throughout the year, Unity College Certification and Training Center provides excellent leadership and skills courses for beginners and professionals. Programs provide opportunities for individuals to discover and learn through personal growth, building social connections, professional development, and acquisition of technical skills.

Where there’s opportunity to open new business ventures on campus to the community, Unity College takes it. And these initiatives haven’t gone unnoticed — a recent Washington Post article featured Unity as a creative thinker in a higher education market “squeezed by budget cuts, an enrollment decline and consumer resistance to continued increases in tuition.” And in July, Unity College brought home the grand prize for sustainability from the National Association of College and University Food Services, a win that was majorly based on the restructure of dining departments under the Sustainability offices on campus.

Every initiative, every restructure, has led the college to one thing: Enterprise Education.

Unity College students already get the experiences they need to be successful outside of school every day — but what if they actually lived what they’ll do in life after college? Recent changes at the school allow just that, letting the college create more revenue-generating and not-for-profit ventures where students, faculty, and staff can do the work of teaching and learning in the very places where a student’s education would normally be applied post-graduation.

These new potential ventures, referred to as Strategic Education Business Units (SEBUs), will open doors for students, staff, and faculty alike, allowing more real-world experiences within the college safety net and learning network while helping hold tuition increases in check. The new model of Enterprise Education is a manifestation of Unity College’s dedication to experiential learning. Currently, Unity College has two SEBUs: the Flagship residential program and the Distance Education program.

“We believe innovation is blurring the lines between industry entrepreneurs and educational research,” President Khoury said. “This is an exciting time to be a part of higher education. The industry is crying for change, and while that certainly means challenges ahead, it also means opportunity. I believe Unity College is well placed to embrace that, bringing environmental education and sustainability initiatives wherever they’re needed, whether you’re a recent high school graduate, a middle-schooler, or well into your career, or whether you’re looking to go back to school full-time, part-time, or just looking for a little adventure.”

About Unity College

The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity College is changing the face of higher education. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, offering 17 environmentally focused undergraduate majors on campus and four online master’s degrees. For more information, visit unity.edu.