BEDFORD — Undergraduate and graduate students from 16 classes at Indiana University will be integral players in a collaboration between Indiana University, the cities of Mitchell and Bedford and several community programs in the pilot kickoff of IU's Sustaining Hoosier Communities.
Sustaining Hoosier Communities focuses on social, economic and environmental sustainability. IU students and faculty will work closely with the community to address potential projects the community identified to generate real, innovative outcomes.
During the 2017-18 year, students and faculty from IU and local leaders in Lawrence County will collaborate, understand and address regional challenges to ultimately improve the health and prosperity of the southern Indiana region.
An official kickoff of the partnership took place Friday at the Downtown Depot with leaders from Lawrence County and IU touting the benefits of the initiative.
Projects range from designing a trail named for Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom in Mitchell, to the addiction crisis, as well as developing a diversity commission.
Sarah Murphy, a junior at IU and 2015 graduate of Bedford North Lawrence, remembers going to the Avoca Fish Hatchery on a school field trip. As a student majoring in outdoor recreation and parks and human ecology, her class will focus on how to make the Avoca State Fish Hatchery a sustainable recreation site.
The fish hatchery was decommissioned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and its operation moved to other fish hatcheries. The DNR has been unable to find a local entity that could receive ownership of the property.
"It's awesome to be able to work with this project because I'm from here," Murphy said. "You can see the potential of the site. We went there today, we hiked up a trail to see what's there. Our goals are how to bring the people there, what programs can flourish there and how to sustain it economically."
IU Professor James Farmer, who brought his class to visit the hatchery on Friday, said students rarely get the chance to work with stakeholders and community partners in a practical way.
"This is an opportunity for them to no just do an academic exercise, but to see their efforts in a practical application," he said.
Farmer said the students saw a lot of potential with the site.
"They were impressed by the mixture of local culture, natural resources and history in that small community," Farmer said.
Another project involves the Little Theatre of Bedford. Jack and Penny May, longtime LTB volunteers, will work with students in a master's program in arts administration.
"We need their input on how to continue the success of Little Theatre," Penny May said.
Ursula Kuhar, professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said students will look into the operations of LTB, from attending board meetings to seeing a production, so they can recommend a plan that will take Little Theatre into the next 55 years.
Three IU classes will work on the Gus Grissom Trail, its implementation, a website and branding. The trail would link the city of Mitchell to Spring Mill State Park. Allen Burris, one of the promoters of the trail, said it would take months and months of work, not to mention financial resources, to accomplish what the IU classes will.
"This will be so helpful to us and will elevate awareness of what we're trying to do," he said.
HNF Supervisor Mike Chaveas said artificial light pollution is a growing problem.
"People interested in astronomy need a place to get away to study the stars," he said. "We have the land area to do that, but we don't have the technology to do the measurements of light that are needed to receive Dark Sky designation. IU has all that."
By partnering with IU, the forest service can obtain the necessary measurements and data. Having the Dark Sky designation broadens the scope of the forest service's recreational offerings.
Over the next several months, students will work with stakeholders on the 15 projects.
"It's a very ambitious list of projects and involves programs across all disciplines at IU," said Kyla Cox Deckard, senior director, Strategic Development and Community Engagement in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. "Throughout the process, the classes will communicate and discuss their work with the local people. Ultimately, it's up to the communities to decide where they want to go (with the projects) and to say, 'This is what we want.'"
In the end, the various projects will receive sustainability proposals from IU and choose which options are best for the projects.
Mark Bryant, clerk-treasurer for Mitchell, said the city of Mitchell is excited about the prospect of working with IU.
"We met with 30 students yesterday and will meet again on Tuesday," he said. "Mitchell has taken some knocks … we've lost industry but this is a great opportunity to bring economic development back to the city and to help the youth."