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Creating a 'Green Collar' Workforce

with $1.2M nsf grant, bc prof uses indoor gardening tech to teach urban teens about social entrepreneurship

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (July 2013) – A team of Boston College faculty and community-based organizations has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to foster entrepreneurship in urban high school students by using innovative technologies to grow produce to sell at neighborhood farmers’ markets.

G. Michael Barnett
G. Michael Barnett

Boston Public School students will use innovative technologies – such as hydroponics, aquaponics, solar panels and windmills – to power and cultivate indoor fruit and vegetable gardens, then sell their produce at neighborhood markets, according to Boston College Associate Professor of Education G. Michael Barnett, the principal investigator on the project titled “Seeding the Future: Creating a Green Collar Workforce.”

“Students and teachers will learn how to conduct scientific investigations while developing small businesses initiatives to sell fresh produce in their communities,” said Barnett, a specialist in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. “We’re making connections between education, entrepreneurship and Boston’s neighborhoods that not only benefit students and teachers, but also contributes to a healthier city as a whole.”

The project, funded through the NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program will work with approximately 1,000 students and 40 to 60 teachers at 20 schools, according to Barnett.

Through its College Bound program, Barnett and BC have piloted similar programs with high schools in the Boston neighborhoods of Brighton and West Roxbury. With the latest grant, Barnett has been awarded $1.65 million in STEM education grants in the past year to collaborate with science teachers, K-12 students, undergraduates and community groups.

The ITEST grant will allow high school students to install solar and wind technology in order to power indoor hydroponic and aquaponic gardening technologies. After growing produce, the students will learn how to operate and maintain a business as they market their goods at inner-city farmers’ markets.

“Social entrepreneurship is the activity of identifying novel and unique ways of addressing a pressing social need which is core to our program,” said Barnett. “Plus in learning what it means to be an entrepreneur, these students will be learning new skills they can apply to solving problems, as well as creating their own jobs. Today, the ability to create your own job is really the only kind of job security that remains in our economic system.”

Barnett said the systems are designed to function in a self-sustainable fashion, employing solar and wind power and using aquaponics to convert fish waste into nutrients to fertilize fruits and vegetables. He expects the systems will have a zero carbon footprint.

Boston College undergraduate students will serve as mentors to BPS students while they attend workshops at the University’s Chestnut Hill campus. The program builds on the successful College Bound model that has seen three students in the past three years go on to become Gates Millennium Scholars.

In addition to Barnett, the principal investigator, additional BC faculty and staff on the team include Lynch School of Education Professor of Counseling Psychology David Blustein, Director of Urban Outreach Catherine Wong, and Carroll School of Management Professor Elizabeth Bagnani, who will work with the team to help students understand the financial aspects of managing a business.

Boston Youth Environmental Network Director Dawn Chavez will coordinate an internship program within the project and STEM Garden Institute Executive Director Janet Lorden will assist with professional development for teachers and data sharing between student teams.

Last fall, NSF awarded Barnett a $250,000 grant to create the largest indoor youth gardening initiative in Boston. Earlier this year, he received a $200,000 NSF grant for BC undergraduates to deploy novel sensing and display technologies in Boston.

—Office of News & Public Affairs