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Sustainable Working Landscapes Initiative

Community partner request for proposal

More information

Contact UMC director Michael Reisner at


In early 2014, Augustana College’s Upper Mississippi Center will be accepting proposals from departments of city, county, state, and federal government; school districts; neighborhood associations; non-profits; small businesses, and other entities in Rock Island County to be a partner for a pilot Sustainable Working Landscape Initiative.

The pilot SWLI is a year-long partnership between Augustana College and Rock Island County. The goal of the Initiative is to combine Augustana’s academic resources and the civic resources of Rock Island County to tackle the social, economic, and environmental challenges facing our community and create a better quality of life for everyone.

water sampling
As part of a summer research project, biology major Carlisle Evans Peck '14, left, collects water samples from a Mississippi River stream alongside professor Kevin Geedey. (Photo gallery)

Starting in June 2014 and continuing through the 2014-2015 academic year, the Augustana will launch a year-long pilot in partnership with Rock Island County. During this pilot SWLI, Augustana intends to select 10 to 15 community-identified and driven sustainability projects to be completed between June 2014 and May 2015. Successful applicants will benefit from hundreds of hours of work by Augustana College students and faculty, representing a diverse array of disciplines, working collaboratively to solve the partner’s sustainability challenge(s).

The initiative is modeled after the highly successful Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon. The primary goal of the SWLI is to connect existing faculty/staff and courses to real-world sustainability problems identified by community partners. This year-long, intensive collaboration allows community partners to advance their sustainability initiatives. At the same time, this initiative creates unique interdisciplinary learning experiences where students can acquire the skills necessary to solve real-world societal problems. In the end, this collaborative, interdisciplinary approach will create innovative solutions to complex, persistent problems.

The SLWI defines sustainability broadly and is interested in assisting community partners tackle social, economic, and environmental sustainability problems. We are especially interested in problems that encompass all three sustainability dimensions. Expertise is available in all aspects of sustainability (environmental health, public health, social justice, community livability, economic opportunities, etc.)

SLWI will employ a transdisciplinary approach to problem-solving that combined the knowledge and perspectives from a diverse array of disciplines with the knowledge and perspectives offered by community partners. The goal is to formulate novel solutions to community-identified sustainability problems by integrating across this breadth of knowledge and these diverse perspectives. Faculty have already volunteered courses representing a diverse array of disciplines for the pilot initiative including art, music, history, geography, geology, environmental studies, biology, political science, chemistry, English, business, economics, communication studies, religion, and ethics. Additional disciplines will be added to address project needs identified in community partner proposals.

Partners from Rock Island County will benefit in numerous ways towards advancing their sustainability initiatives. Partners can expect to:

  • Earn a high rate of return on their investment via the hundreds of hours of work by Augustana students, faculty, and staff on selected projects.
  • Gain insights from an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that draws on the breadth of knowledge and perspectives from a diverse array of disciplines spanning the social and natural sciences and humanities.
  • Gain the depth of knowledge and expertise of experienced faculty knowledgeable of cutting edge research and practices in their perspective fields.
  • Formulate novel solutions that can move projects forward because students have the freedom to explore directions that are sometimes not available to partner staff or outside consultants as a result of budget or political constraints.
  • Increase publicity and awareness of sustainability challenges facing the community and your efforts to address those challenges.
  • Elevate energy and enthusiasm among partner staff and greater support from community stakeholders created by the student outreach in the community.
  • Build a pool of young, energetic, and creative students with experience solving real world problems facing society that can serve as candidates for future internships and staff positions. Students can also become informal ambassadors for the partner and describe the successful collaboration at community meetings and forums.

In return, community partners create and support these unique real-world, interdisciplinary, and collaborative learning opportunities by identifying sustainability-related projects, dedicating staff-time to oversee and mentor students, creating related internship opportunities, and providing funding to cooperatively fund the direct operating costs of the SWLI.

water sampling
Anthropology major Tara Cullison '14 examines her net for samples from Mississippi River watersheds. (Photo gallery)

Proposing and beginning a project

To minimize travel time and costs and other logistical challenges for the inaugural SWLI, the pilot program is limited to social, economic, and environmental challenges facing Rock Island County. Within this geographic area, we are seeking project proposals from the departments/divisions of city, county, state, and federal governments, non-profits, small businesses, and other organizations. Partners are encouraged to develop and propose several projects because not all projects will be a suitable match with existing academic courses. We also encourage partners to collaborate with other local entities to formulate projects and share costs.

For the pilot SWLI, only sustainability projects located within or in close proximity to Rock Island County will be considered. However, Augustana will be inviting proposals from cities to be the sole partner for the SWLI for the 2015-2016 academic year in September 2014 (Request for Proposals released). Based on similar, successful programs at other colleges/universities, we anticipate the selection process to be highly competitive. Thus, we strongly encourage cities (or counties or consortiums of cities or counties) interested in being the 2015-2016 SWLI partner to schedule an initial information meeting as soon as possible.

Partners are strongly encouraged to collaborate with the SWLI Program Manager during the preparation of their application to discuss proposed sustainability projects. The early collaboration will ensure a good match between proposed projects and Augustana’s capacity. We anticipate that the most successful projects will develop through the following process:

  1. Let us know you are interested by contacting Michael Reisner, the program and UMC director, at 309-794-3418 or Successful project development is dialogue that includes:
    • A partner proposed list of projects
    • SWLI and partner discussions to modify the proposed projects to match the project's scope and scale with the availability and interest of Augustana courses and faculty;
    • SWLI suggestion of additional projects that might be a good match to meet both Augustana and the partner's needs.
  2. Attend an informational session for potential community partners in February (more information coming soon).
  3. Write a proposal that includes all the information requested (see below). The SWLI Program Director is available to discuss potential projects and provide informational presentations to interested community partners.  We strongly encourage potential partners to schedule an in-person visit prior to submitting an application.
  4. Submit your proposal by the 5 p.m. Friday, March 14, 2014 application deadline.

UMC director Michael Reisner is available to discuss the SWLI program with potential partners, brainstorm and/or refine project ideas, and assist in completing applications. One of the overarching goals of the SWLI is to build life-long partnerships between Augustana College and communities of the Upper Mississippi by assisting them in solving sustainability problems they identify. Early collaboration to ensure shared buy-in concerning the problem will lead to better projects, so please contact us to discuss your proposal.

Augustana will tentatively select projects and notify community partners by Thursday, April 15. Between April 15 and May 31, Augustana will work with partner Program Coordinators and Project Leads to finalize the list of projects and match identified projects with Augustana academic courses. For all final projects, Augustana SWLI faculty and staff, in partnership with the Partner Program Coordinator and Project Leads, will develop a scope of work: detailing the sustainability problem to be tackled; formulating potential related research questions, establishing a time table with milestones for project completion; defining expected outcomes and deliverables; and determining the partner’s estimated financial contribution.

Augustana will identify and match faculty and courses with proposed projects as part of its review of each partner’s application. Three levels of projects are anticipated based on their complexity and time necessary to complete the anticipated outcomes and deliverables:

  • Level 1: smallest, least complex projects that likely only require the expertise of faculty/students from one discipline; and project outcomes & deliverables that can be completed in 1 ten-week course (3-4 months)
  • Level 2: larger, more complex projects that are likely to require the expertise of faculty/students from 2-3 disciplines; and/or completing project outcomes & deliverables will require 2-3 courses and/or 2 ten-week terms (5-6 months)
  • Level 3: largest, most complex projects that that are likely to require the expertise of faculty/students from >4 disciplines; or completing project outcomes & deliverables will require >3 courses and/or 3 or more ten-week terms (9-12 months)

Fall terms typically runs from late August-early November 2014, winter terms from mid-November 2014-mid February 2015, and spring terms from early March-mid-May 2015. Yearlong projects would run from June 2014-May 2015.

Augustana Commitment

During the summer of 2014, Augustana SWLI staff, faculty, and interns will meet with partner staff and community stakeholders to develop a comprehensive scope-of-work for each project and participating course(s) to guide work throughout the project duration. The scope of work will include a problem statement, potential issues or directions for student exploration, specific project activities (data and information collection, site visits), expected outcomes and final deliverables. Depending on the level of matching funds from partners, Augustana has the capacity to address 15-20 projects during the partnership year, matching each project with one of more courses to complete the necessary work. Projects will be carried out using existing courses and senior inquiry research projects between June 2014 and May of 2015.

Augustana faculty and staff will provide ongoing support throughout the process to ensure high-quality outcomes that meet the partner’s needs. Support will include coordinating Augustana resources, identifying and coordinating necessary data and information for the projects, maintaining a project website, coordinating media outreach, soliciting feedback from partner staff, and troubleshooting as needed. This coordination by the SWLI offers significant benefits and efficiencies over stand-along projects that partners might coordinate with individual faculty.

Outcomes for each project will be documented in a final report and presentation. In collaboration with the community partner, project results will be disseminated through the Augustana website, social media, and traditional media outlets. At the conclusion of the project, Augustana faculty and staff are available to work with the partner to develop a strategy to implement, monitor, and evaluate sustainability efforts implemented from projects.

Related projects in higher education

University of Oregon's Sustainable Cities Initiative

Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities' City Labs

University of Minnesota's Resilient Communities Project

Sustainable Urban Watersheds Study

An interdisciplinary group of Augustana faculty and students are working in partnership with Rock Island County to assess the health of urban watersheds. In the spring of 2013, the Upper Mississippi Center initiated a Sustainable Urban Watersheds Project in partnership with Rock Island County.

The primary goal of Phase I of the project is to assess the overall ecological health of the approximately 13 urban watersheds and associated urban riparian forests that are dominant features of city landscape (i.e. known as “the ravines”). A related goal is to at least preliminarily assess the socio-economic health of the neighborhoods that compose these watersheds and through which these urban streams flow.

In collaboration with the cities, the project established approximately 40 samples sites (about three per watershed) in the summer of 2013. We have been sampling for a wide range of water quality parameters monthly since June and intend to continue the sampling program through at least August of 2014.

The findings from both of these projects will contribute substantially to the ongoing Sustainable Urban Watersheds Project and provide decision-makers with critical knowledge necessary to more effectively conserve and restore these important urban ecosystems.

Get involved

If you would be interested in getting involved in this project, we are constantly looking for volunteers to help with water quality and vegetation samplings and are always looking for additional landowners willing to provide access for such sampling.

Please contact Michael Reisner at or 309.794.3418.