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Beyond the Classroom: Higher Education Partnerships for Sustainability

Many people know that University of Phoenix is a leader in higher education, but most don’t know about the University’s commitment to—and leadership in—environmental practices and sustainability. In fact, University of Phoenix ranks fifth on a list of colleges and universities powered by green energy. Spearheaded by the progressive mind of University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, the University has maintained a pledge to environmental awareness by offering degrees both undergraduate and graduate degree programs in sustainable management, as well as by partnering with several organizations and educating local communities across the nation.

Taking the reigns of the University’s commitment to the environment is Ayla Dickey. She is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and says that University of Phoenix has many current partnerships to help promote environmental awareness. “Right now, we’ve partnered with Keep America Beautiful, Earth Day Network, Save the Bay in San Francisco, Green the Block and the University of Arizona’s AzRISE.” 

The partnership with AzRISE, “aims to advance solar technology, which will eventually lead to job creation,” says Dickey. This solar partnership has spawned two solar-powered projects. The first was the Drifter 2.0, a solar-powered car that participated in a race from Plano, Texas to Calgary, Alberta. The second is an entry in the U.S. Department of Energy’s fourth annual Solar Decathlon, which is an international competition to design, build and operate an energy-efficient, fully solar-powered home. This event occurs this fall.

Additionally, University of Phoenix already has begun work to create a solar research institute, situated next to the corporate headquarters in Phoenix. Once completed, Dickey says, “the institute will be a working research facility where renewable energy technologies can be created and tested with programs in areas such as solar, wind, biofuels and a variety of other alternative energy sources.”  

Not only is University of Phoenix contributing to the future studies of alternative energies and sustainability, but it’s also playing a part in the future landscape of higher education. According to Dickey, “our commitment to accessibility allows us to reach a broader range of potential students, enabling people from all walks of life to pursue an education and a career in environmental studies.”

Educating Local Communities

Another major contribution University of Phoenix is making in terms of environmental awareness is assisting in the education of local communities across the United States. 

“We believe strongly in giving back and supporting the communities we serve. Nowhere is this more important than in those cities that have been hit hard by recent economic issues. Through our University of Phoenix Foundation, we support initiatives designed to help lift underserved communities both economically and environmentally, says Dickey. “We have developed some strong partnerships that will work to advance environmental education and awareness in low-income communities, along with helping the community to understand and leverage the powerful relationship between today’s green economy and local economic well-being.”  

With the Keep America Beautiful partnership, many of the University’s local campuses engaged in community cleanups, tree planting and recycling. “Most importantly, these cleanup initiatives provided the campuses with the opportunity to start the conversation with their community about why environmental issues are important not only to save money, but also save the planet and ultimately economic development,” says Dickey.

According to her, these community outreach projects are a direct response to today’s needs. “Many communities under the poverty line are affected adversely by climate change and they feel the pressures of climate change more than anyone else,” she says. “Through direct involvement and working with our partners, we are able to facilitate community participation. It is through this participation that education on environmental issues begins.  

In addition, all University of Phoenix campuses in the United States participated in Earth Hour, on March 28, 2009. Every year, on the last Saturday of March, businesses and households from over 80 countries around the world pledge to turn off any non-essential lights and electrical appliances for an hour, resulting in large amounts of reduced CO2 emissions. The University also raised awareness about Earth Hour by posting signage throughout its campuses and business offices.

Educating Future Generations

University of Phoenix, working with Earth Day Network, has recently begun to educate young students (grades K through 12) on environmental issues. Earth Day Network’s Greening Schools program finds a school in need and then works with the school leadership, students and local community members to build a plan to improve the school’s environmental performance. Projects often include installing solar panels, retrofits and weatherizing buildings. 

Through this Greening Schools experience, students learn from the volunteers about the various green changes going on at their school. They are then able to take some of these new techniques and practices and work to apply them at home and in other areas of their school. Dickey says, “we like to educate them [about green practices] when they’re young, so they can use them throughout their lives and influence their families and peers. We hope it’ll create a ripple effect.”

So far, University of Phoenix has participated in the Greening Schools Program at two schools: William R. Sullivan in Phoenix and Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C.

Through partnerships, direct involvement with local communities and educating our kids, University of Phoenix is doing more than just offering college degrees in sustainability. 

“Small, but steady changes,” says Dickey, “have a big impact.”

Learn more about University of Phoenix sustainability programs.