Need Innovative Sustainability Planning Advice? Ask a Student.

June 20, 2012

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The city of Absecon in Atlantic County New Jersey began to feel the political pressure for not being Sustainable Jersey certified. The residents wanted it, and the mayor made it a priority. But without experience, where would the city begin?

Terry Dolan, the Absecon administrator, reached out to Dennis Weiss, dean of Richard Stockton College’s School of Natural Science and Mathematics.  The request landed on Dan Moscovici’s desk.  Dan, a forward thinking assistant professor of environmental studies at Stockton College, turned it into an opportunity.

Stockton College students and Assistant Professor Dan Moscovici (pictured far right)

Stockton College Students Act as Municipal Consultants

A unique partnership between the Stockton students and the city of Absecon was formed.  The Absecon case study was embedded as a studio component in Dan Moscovici’s undergraduate Introduction to Planning class. He had his students work in groups and act as municipal consultants to provide recommendations on what actions Absecon should do to become Sustainable Jersey certified.

“I wanted to make my class more relevant for the students and interactive with the community because that is what planning is all about,” said Assistant Professor Dan Moscovici.  “Students were tasked with, and graded on, digging deeply into specific Sustainable Jersey action categories. They did research, conducted interviews and developed benchmarks based on already certified municipalities. They were able to connect material from class with applied skills in environmental planning.  I know these skills will prepare them for other classes and future careers.”

“On the first day of the class, after Dr. Dan presented the project, I honestly felt overwhelmed.  How could I advise a town on its sustainable actions?” said Sarah Scott a member of the class.  It is evident that the hesitation only lasted for a moment.  Sarah Scott worked on the action for forming a Green Team.  She is now a proponent of Sustainable Jersey and recommends that every town in New Jersey can and should get certified.

As a direct result of the class work, Sarah Scott is about to begin an internship with Gloucester Township to help them work toward the silver level of Sustainable Jersey certification.  Sarah gives a lot of the credit to Assistant Professor Dan Moscovici.  She said, “Dr. Dan opened so many doors and provided hands on experiences that have changed my outlook and abilities.  I am confident and excited for my career options.”

Students Provide Recommendations to the City of Absecon

At the end of the semester the students presented their recommendations to the city of Absecon.  Students focused on six categories: sustainability planning, waste and recycling, land use and transportation, health and wellness, animals in the community, and innovative demonstration projects.

Michael O’Malley, a student in the class, worked on the waste reduction and recycling actions.   “As we dug deeper into Sustainable Jersey, I realized the power the program has to make change because it feeds a grassroots component that involves the whole community.  Sustainable Jersey is about more than being green.  It encompasses all facets of the community and if done right, everyone in the town will benefit.”  Michael O’Malley graduated this year and plans to work this summer at the Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford New Jersey, and from there the sky is the limit for the possibilities.

Terry Dolan, the Absecon city administrator was beyond impressed.  “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome.  These are the most insightful and enthusiastic students that I have ever worked with.  They had great ideas and the work they did is what the city of Absecon needed to move forward as we form the Green Team and work on the Sustainable Jersey certification.  For example, one group of students proposed that we establish a zoning overlay for the city that would encourage green buildings through the land use ordinances of the municipality.  Now that’s useful advice.”

Need help with your Sustainable Jersey certification?

Moving forward, Assistant Professor Dan Moscovici is ready to take on a new town that needs help with Sustainable Jersey.  He would love for his class to partner with a city, a township, a borough, or a nearby municipality that can provide the students with a new experience.  You can contact Dan Moscovici at Daniel.Moscovici[at]stockton[dot]edu to pitch your town or to inquire about hiring one of his students for an internship or job after graduation.

Dan Moscovici concluded, “Sustainability needs to be a foundation for everything we do.  We need to balance economic growth, social well-being and environmental preservation.  It’s challenging and along the way you have to give up a little here and there.  If we make this the basis for our society, then we are on the right track.”  With professors like Dan and the students at Stockton College, there is definitely hope for us yet.

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