Environment Corps (“E-Corps”) is an approach to Life Transformative Education that combines classroom learning on environmental topics with practical, real-world experience working with communities on related projects. This website is intended to serve as a guide for those interested in adapting the E-Corps model developed at the University of Connecticut from 2016 to the present. Within this website, we hope to briefly lay out the basic elements of the E-Corps model, information on our instructional techniques, and some best practices related to community engagement. There is also a Library with publications, diagrams, and examples of course materials such as syllabi, class exercises, homework, and practicum projects.
Why We’re Doing This
As the flagship university of the State of Connecticut and a Land/Sea Grant university, the University of Connecticut (UConn) has a mission to be an Engaged Institution, developing and sustaining meaningful, mutually beneficial engagement with the communities of the state.
In the course of our research and Extension work, we’ve become aware of the enormous pressures that our state’s communities are under – some of which relate to protecting their town’s natural resources and responding to a long list of environmental requirements. UConn is also committed to providing Life Transformative Education for its students. And as instructors, we continually marvel at the quality of work that can be done by undergraduates once they are given the knowledge and tools to tackle a particular problem. The E-Corps is our attempt to marry these two factors to the benefit of the students, the communities, and the university.
The first E-Corps course, Climate Corps, was developed in 2016-2017 by a small group that included the Directors of all three environmental major programs and Extension faculty with extensive experience in working with towns on environmental issues. Climate Corps was first offered in the Fall of 2017. From there, the Brownfields Corps (2018) and Stormwater Corps (2020) followed, developed by faculty on their own initiative.
The effort was consolidated into the Environment Corps by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program. The goals of the NSF project are to: improve and enhance the E-Corps pedagogical model; study the impact of the program on students, faculty, and the university as a whole; conduct meaningful and actionable projects that help Connecticut communities to address pressing environmental problems; make the program sustainable at UConn, and; assist colleagues at both UConn and at other institutions in adapting the E-Corps model. An overview article on E-Corps is here, or if you're more in the mood for a brochure...
E-Corps is not housed in one department or even in one college. This is because the program team currently involves 6 academic departments in 4 major schools/colleges, the 3 environmental majors, 4 university-wide Centers, and the Office of the Provost. Scroll to the footer below to see the complete list. A program “systems map” was created by the team to try to capture the many considerations and interactions comprising the E-Corps program, both within and outside the university, and to help identify where challenges and opportunities might exist. Click on the diagram to view. [An article on the university setting that engendered E-Corps development is here.]
There is evidence to suggest that we are having an impact both on students’ lives and in the communities in which we work. In 2022 our NSF project external evaluator Horizon Research, Inc. surveyed graduated UConn students who had taken at least one E-Corps course. The results show impressive impacts regarding knowledge, skills, life decisions on graduate work and/or career paths, and environmental engagement. See the full report and/or the graphic summary of the results. We also have many student comments that we think provide insight, taken from informal communication and from the Student Evaluation of Teaching (SET) surveys that are sent at the end of each semester.
In spring 2023, Horizon conducted a study of community contacts for 32 distinct E-Corps projects. The study found that almost all of the projects made significant contributions to local plans, policies, or projects. See the full report and/or the summary document for more info.