Project Background & History

The Sustainable Learning Initiative @ Franklin Falls is embedded in a broad community revitalization effort being spearheaded by the nonprofit organization PermaCityLife. In 2011 Todd Workman, director and founder of PermaCityLife, helped organize a professional design charette where participants developed conceptual drawings for what the mill district in Franklin would look and feel like if it were grounded in the principles and practices of permaculture. 

Colby-Sawyer's Director of Sustainability, Jennifer White, was a member of that original design team and she and Todd began to wonder how they might get students and faculty from the college involved.  It began slowly, with an environmental studies student whose 2012 summer job was to work as an internship coordinator to identify the next graphic design and business interns for the project.  The following year the Community-Based Research Project class led by Professors Harvey Pine and Jennifer White partnered with the City of Franklin to research sustainable alternatives to waste, water, energy and transportation that could help inform the City's Master Plan.  Since then, other students in Graphic Design, Environmental Philosophy and Strategic Marketing classes have contributed their time and ideas as well.

The initiative gained momentum in 2014 when Colby-Sawyer received a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation for "Establishing Community Ownership of Campus Innovation," which incentivized creative and collaborative solutions designed to reduce the cost of higher education and re-imagine its delivery.  In response to that call for action, the SLI @ FF team proposed a model for an innovative, collaborative, transdisciplinary, community­-based living laboratory which pairs Colby-­Sawyer disciplines across campus with the actual deliverables needed in a current and ongoing sustainable community revitalization project. The team included Todd Workman and Jennifer White, along with Hilary Walrod (Assistant Professor in Fine & Performing Arts), Pam Spear (Director of Baird Health & Counseling and Adjunct Professor of Business), Laura Alexander (then Professor & Chair of the Environmental Studies department, current Interim Academic Vice President & Dean of Faculty), and Jenisha Shrestha (then Presidential Fellow in the Office of Campus Sustainability, current PermaCityLife employee).

Via multiple partnerships with stakeholders such as the City of Franklin, the Franklin Business Industrial Development Corporation, Franklin Savings Bank, Choose Franklin, Franklin Industrial Park and more, we have developed the architecture to support unique, real-life learning experiences for our students that also have tangible, positive impacts. The initiative pairs the learning outcomes of an assignment, a whole class or a major course of study in majors across campus with the actual needs and deliverables of organizations in Franklin that are shepherding a sustainable community redevelopment process.  In support of this work the college has also proposed and approved a unique three-year degree program in Community-Based Sustainability that emphasizes on-site experiential learning, and which allows those students to develop professional skills while in school. The new major officially launched in the Fall of 2016. 

Learn more about past involvement and see student projects on our engaged learning page