Establishing the Center for Environmental Stewardship: Developing a Programmatic Master Plan to Facilitate Research, Collaboration, Education, and Activism

Client Organization: 
Kalamazoo College
Project Location : 
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Summary of Project Idea: 

Kalamazoo College, a small, private liberal arts college in Southwest Michigan, has recently secured a 2 million dollar endowment to aid the establishment of a Center for Environmental Stewardship. The goal of this center is to centralize sustainability efforts on campus, ranging from research by faculty and students to extracurricular activities. The center also hopes to make community engagement an integral part of its operations. However, the center currently only exists only as an endowment and broad set of goals. It currently has no staff, no location, and even lacks a mission statement. This provides a unique opportunity for SNRE students to shape the future of sustainability at Kalamazoo College, and perhaps create an innovative model for other higher education institutions.

As part of the new center, Kalamazoo College would like to update the land use plan for the school-owned Lillian Anderson Arboretum. Furthermore, the school hopes to create a building use plan for the newly built Batts Pavilion located in the Arboretum. The land and building use plans will seek to help accomplish the goals of the center, focusing on sustainability, community outreach, and classroom education.

The scope of the project may change through the research design process to focus in on one specific area or expand into others. However, it will likely include three distinct components that Kalamazoo College intends to incorporate into the Center for Environmental Stewardship:

  1. Concretely establish goals/mission statement of the center and create recommendations based upon those goals
  2. Create a land use plan that incorporates established goals of center, with a focus on ecological health and invasive species management
  3. Create a building use plan that incorporates established goals of center, with a focus on education and community outreach

Goals & Objectives: 

The project will turn broad goals into concrete goals and create a mission statement for the Center for Environmental Stewardship. Broadly, the center seeks to:

  • centralize sustainability efforts on campus, including: the Kalamazoo College Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, educational programs including partnerships abroad, faculty and student research, student organizations, environmental justice efforts through the Arcus Center for Social Justice, and sustainable campus employment opportunities, such as recycling and sustainability internships
  • Facilitate collaboration between various efforts and stakeholders
  • Incorporate community engagement in education and activism
  • Integrate the existing Lillian Anderson Arboretum and recently built Batts Pavilion
  • Create a model for integrative environmental stewardship for higher education

The project will turn these broad goals into a master plan for the programmatic operations of the center. The master plan be created utilizing the following:

  • stakeholder interviews of faculty, students, and community members
  • strength-based analysis, to see where Kalamazoo College’s sustainability efforts are effective, and which efforts need improvement
  • Wisdom from the newly established Arcus Center for Social Justice
  • Prior and newly gathered ecological data for the Lillian Anderson Arboretum
  • Trial implementation of programming

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: 

The establishment of the Center for Environmental Stewardship has numerous real-world impacts. Ideally, the center would help bridge the gap between various sustainability efforts on campus, strengthening these efforts through collaboration. It would also facilitate collaborative research. Furthermore, the center would highlight environmental research at Kalamazoo College, providing students and faculty additional avenues to share their research. The center would create additional educational and activism opportunities for faculty, and community members, and encourage civic engagement and service learning for students.

Research conducted by SNRE students will be implemented into the establishment of the Center for Environmental Stewardship. Thus, research conducted will have a direct impact on sustainability efforts at Kalamazoo College, students’ engagement with sustainability, and the college’s engagement with the greater Kalamazoo area.

Additionally, Kalamazoo College hopes to create a novel approach to environmental stewardship in higher education that facilitates research, collaboration, education, and activism, on campus and beyond.

Specific Activities & Duration:

Several methodologies will be utilized to tackle the creation of a master plan for the Center for Environmental Stewardship. We hope to take a community based participatory research approach, in which we involve several stakeholders, including students, faculty, and community members. We will likely conduct a stakeholder analysis in which we examine the connections between various sustainability efforts on campus. We also intend to use a strength-based analysis approach to determine which sustainable outreach and engagement efforts on campus are successful, and what can be improved. Furthermore, we would like to analyze existing ecological data, and collect new data to supplement, to create the arboretum land-use plan. We would also like to create a small trial of programming implementation, to analyze and create suggestions for future programming. This programming could include anything from a research symposium to an educational nature walk in the arboretum. Finally, we hope to gain wisdom regarding successful programming from Kalamazoo College’s recently established Arcus Center for Social Justice. The scale of the project should be appropriate for 4-6 students working part-time for 16 months. However, Kalamazoo College is very flexible regarding outcomes, and is willing to adapt the project so that it is realistic in scope and matches SNRE students’ interests and skills.

Integrative Approach: 

The project is multifaceted and provides opportunities for SNRE students with various strengths and skill sets. However, the various facets of the project are all united under the auspice of the Center for Environmental Stewardship, and all aspects will work together to address the center’s goals. Additionally, Kalamazoo College is willing to be flexible and utilize the skills of the SNRE team members to create the most effective final product.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
Role for each program area: 
  • Conservation Ecology- Students will gather data as needed to supplement the existing ecological data for the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. Students will create a land-use plan that focuses on environmentally sound management and invasive species control. The plan should also consider the arboretum’s mission- conservation, experiential learning, community building, recreation, contemplation- as well as the yet-to-be-established goals of the center
  • Environmental Policy and Planning- Students will use knowledge political and social feasibility to strengthen master plan recommendations, and help ConEco students incorporate non-conservation related goals into their land use plan. Students will also work with BEC students to conduct strength-based and stakeholder analyses and provide recommendations to improve  communication and collaboration.
  • Behavior, Education, and Communication- students will work with EJ students create environmental education and activism programming, based on stakeholder interviews. BEC students will also work with EPP students to conduct stakeholder and strength-based analyses, and provide suggestions to improve stakeholder communication and collaboration
  • Environmental Justice- students will ensure that research is engaging a broad and diverse set of stakeholders and will help establish connections with community members. Students will also help create recommendations for EJ focused programming. Finally, students will be responsible for communicating with Arcus Center for Social Justice at Kalamazoo College to gain wisdom on establishing a center, as well as foster EJ based collaboration between the Arcus Center and the Center for Environmental Stewardship
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

This project includes numerous professional career development benefits. Students will gain experience in incorporating various, wide-ranging goals into cohesive programming. Students will need to utilize existing wisdom and research, as well as explore creative solutions to create their master plan. They will gain experience in one or more research methodologies, and have the opportunity to present findings and recommendations to leadership at Kalamazoo College. These recommendations will be incorporated into the establishment of the Center for Environmental Stewardship, through which they will affect numerous Kalamazoo College students and faculty members, as well as Kalamazoo community members.

Funding Sources: 

~$3000 available for field work expenses from endowment for center (Confirmed possibility)

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


The team will deliver a master plan for the Center for Environmental Stewardship that will include the following:

  • Analysis outlining areas of strength and improvement
  • Report of stakeholder needs/desires
  • Stakeholder analysis and recommendation for improving stakeholder collaboration
  • Land use plan for Lillian Anderson Arboretum
  • Building use plan for Batts conservancy
  • Recommendations for future programming (education and activism)


The project will be integral to facilitate the implementation of Center for Environmental Stewardship. We also hope that the project will help to create a model for academic and civic engagement for environmental stewardship.

Contact full name: 
Binney Girdler
Job title: 
Chair, Biology Department; Co-Director, Environmental Studies Program; Director, Lillian Anderson Arboretum
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Paige Fischer
Contact Phone: 
(269) 337-5977
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE student
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 

Emily Nummer

Project Status: 
In Progress