One is majority leader of the Maine House of Representatives. Another is leading Maine Farm Bureau into the future. They are Maine wardens, federal wildlife officers and farmers. They install solar panels, work with wildlife, organize food banks based on the concept of vegetables for all and direct BikeMaine.
Unity College graduates are everywhere in Maine, and as products of the lauded – and growing – environmental college they are cultivators of sustainability wherever they end up.
More than a quarter of them – 28 percent of alumni according to a 2015 survey – stay in Maine.
Which is one of the reasons why Unity is the winner of this year’s Source Cultivator Award; as it turns 50 this year, the Waldo County school has never been more relevant or important to the future, whether nationally, internationally or here at home. As Ellen Sabina of Maine Farmland Trust said in her nomination, “Unity College contributes to a better Maine.”
That starts at the campus in Unity, where students might live in America’s first certified passive house residence hall, TerraHaus, or a residence hall heated with wood pellets. How’s this for course work – why not compare the energy efficiency of the wood-pellet heated dorm with the otherwise identical one heated with oil? Their classroom might also be the livestock barn or the farm.
“We don’t just teach it,” said Unity President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. Unity students have choices of 16 majors based on sustainability sciences, ranging from the ones you’d expect (Environmental Policy, Law and Society, Marine Biology) to the more surprising ones, like Adventure Therapy, and Adventure-Based Environmental Education. All of which take advantage of the school’s location. “We call Maine our classroom,” Khoury added.
As sustainability has become a hot topic, interest from prospective students has soared. Applications for admission to Unity increased 138 percent since 2012, from 477 to 1,133 in 2015, and correspondingly, the size of the student body has gone up. In the fall of 2015, there were 665 students enrolled. Khoury said the college will continue to grow, but only to a little over 700. Unity has also been approved to offer graduate programs for the first time.
Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer deHart said it’s been her experience that sustainability directors fall under facilities or student affairs. At Unity, she reports directly to Khoury. That’s because Unity’s focus isn’t just on green buildings or feeding local foods to the student body (although it does; 27 percent of the dining hall food is locally sourced). Sustainability is the cornerstone and always has been. Also key? Emphasizing the economy and commerce as key components of the whole sustainability education.
“In order to ask questions about the snarly situations we are facing in this world, you need to know a thing or two about finances and the economy,” deHart said. “We are looking to be able to cultivate experts and higher level leaders.”
Khoury says he’d like Unity to help change the way outsiders view Maine.
“I don’t want Maine to be only known as Vacationland,” Khoury said. “What is stopping Maine from becoming Educationland?”