GBHEM Partnership Offers United Methodist Students an Innovative Class on Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities

Published On: February 8, 2018
City and Forested landscape

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) has partnered with Oklahoma City University, the Oklahoma Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church and Mark Davies, Ph.D., to launch the Regional Hub for Leadership, Education and Development (LEaD) for North America. As one of its first initiatives, the LEaD Hub in North America is partnering with the ecological sustainability faculty at Boston University, Green Mountain College and Oklahoma City University to organize the Summer Sustainability Institute 2018 for undergraduate students from Methodist-related colleges and universities, June 3 to 17, 2018. 

Centered around the theme “Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities,” the Summer Sustainability Institute is a two-week intensive course that immerses students into sustainability research and lectures. Students will spend the first week at Boston University and the second week at Green Mountain College in Vermont. This initiative builds on programs developed by GBHEM and the International Association of Methodist Schools, Colleges and Universities (IAMSCU) since 2005, which involved Oklahoma City University and Green Mountain College. Oklahoma City University is home of the World House Institute for Ecological and Social Responsibility.

Green Mountain College was the second college in the U.S. to achieve carbon neutrality. Boston University is one of the leading institutions on sustainability worldwide, and maintains the Boston University Sustainability Initiative. The institute will focus on environmental and social responsibility initiatives that could improve the bioregions specific to each student’s home area. Using examples of initiatives in Boston and Vermont, the students will explore ways they can design sustainability programs in their own regions. 

“I believe the institute will provide opportunities for students from Methodist colleges and universities from across the United States and around the world to experience an intensive and practical course addressing the pressing ecological challenges we are facing today, with an eye to developing systemic approaches for building more sustainable communities,” said Davies, professor of Social and Ecological Ethics at Oklahoma City University, executive director of GBHEM’s LEaD Hub in North America and one of the institute’s organizers.

 Exploring Urban Sustainability Best Practices in Boston 

Boston Solar Field Image
Solar fields are a major element of urban sustainability practices for resilient communities.

Rated one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S., Boston brings technological innovation, academic resources, government officials and public activists together to find sustainable solutions for the problems of the 21st century. While in Boston, students will travel on the “T,” the oldest subway system in North America, visit the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, learn how to foster sustainable innovation at Greentown Labs, taste the produce of urban agriculture, and explore the role of “citizen science” in combating climate change through hands-on activities like a gas leak safari.

During week one, students will visit some of Boston’s renowned green spaces and meet with representatives of the local and state government to understand how Boston developed and maintains its dedication to sustainability. Through meetings with a variety of stakeholders—each holding a piece of the urban sustainability puzzle—the students will develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the shifting demands of urban sustainability. Becky Copeland, Ph.D., professor of Boston University School of Theology, will facilitate the students’ time in Boston.

Understanding Rural Sustainability in Poultney, Vermont

One of the farms at Green Mountain College in Vermont, a learning laboratory for sustainability innovation for more than two decades.
One of the farms at Green Mountain College in Vermont, a learning laboratory for sustainability innovation for more than two decades.

Vermont is the destination for those seeking to understand what genuine rural sustainability is like as Green Mountain College has been a learning laboratory for sustainability innovation for more than two decades. While in Vermont, students will visit area farms, Green Mountain Power’s energy innovation center, and microgrids—localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to help lessen disturbances and strengthen grid resilience. The students will explore the college’s biomass combined heat and powerplant where they will see how agriculture and energy systems are being transformed. They will get hands-on experience at the college’s organic farm and learn what it takes to supply local foods to the region. Students will also climb Haystack, a small mountain in the Taconic range, whose 360-degree views evoke the bioregional sensibility that informs best practices in community resilience.

Another goal for the students’ time in Vermont is to experience how powerful storytelling is used to drive the sustainability/resilience transition. Throughout week two, students will interact with experts who envision and create a healthy, just and sustainable future for the region, and who will help students create visions for their own communities. Bill Throop, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy at Green Mountain College, will facilitate the Vermont portion of the institute.

“Together we must all learn how to live in fundamentally different ways if the planet is to support nine billion healthy, happy people,” said Throop. “For me this community learning is the most exciting thing about being involved in the sustainability/resilience movement, and it is happening all around us in Vermont.” 

Course Requirements and Details

Course participants must be an undergraduate in good standing at a Methodist-related institution of higher education with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Successful completion qualifies students for three academic credits from the regionally accredited Green Mountain College. Registration is open now at Prior to the start of the course, students will receive assigned reading materials. During the institute, students are required to keep a journal of the things learned each day, as well as give a class presentation at the end of each week. A term paper will be due a week after the institute. The cost for the course is $2,500 and includes tuition, fees, lodging, meals and travel during the Summer Sustainability Institute. Travel costs to and from Boston are not included in the fee. A deposit of $500 is due April 1 with the payment due May 1. For questions about the course, please email Mark Davies at For more information on GBHEM and United Methodist education resources, visit  

About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.

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