Service Learning on the River: Educating for Sustainability in the NRV
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The New River is influenced by a variety of pressures ranging from economic development and attendant environmental impacts, to changing community expectations and choices, to infrastructure investments by local government. Coordinating local action to improve sustainability of the river is complex, with many stakeholders, conflicting priorities, and systems-level impacts that are poorly understood. Local universities can contribute to this challenge through community-based service learning (CBSL). CBSL involves exposing students to structured, real-life problem solving opportunities working with community stakeholders to develop and apply solutions in the real world. This presentation describes a series of CBSL experiences employed in graduate and undergraduate sustainable building and infrastructure courses at Virginia Tech over a three-year period. Experiences included facility assessment and designing and building a new feline housing area at the Radford Animal Shelter along the river, followed by a comprehensive Sustainable Riverfront Development Plan for the City of Radford including the entire riverfront. Current efforts involve designing and building new environmentally friendly access points for recreational access to the river in Bisset Park. Partners include the City of Radford, Radford University, local businesses, and others. The presentation includes outcomes, impacts, and lessons learned for others interested in this approach.