Eastern Oregon University > Mountaineer Magazine > Spring 2020 > Real communities, real solutions

Real communities, real solutions

New Sustainable Rural Systems degree opens this fall

Students can enroll in EOU’s new Sustainable Rural Systems degree program starting in fall 2020. The innovative course structure sets up student cohorts to mentor one another.

An abandoned sawmill became a booming center of commerce, culture and city life in Bend after The Old Mill District debuted in 2017.

Transforming former industrial sites into meaningful community spaces has become an industry of its own in rural Oregon. A new EOU degree program equips students to serve as leaders in this emerging field.

Starting in fall 2020, students in the Sustainable Rural Systems program will investigate aspects of rural communities that make Oregon’s cities, farms and forests livable. The on-campus degree is open to transfer students, as well as first-time freshmen.

Courses designed for group-based learning take on real-life challenges alongside community and industry partners. Students builddistinct skill-sets to address environmental remediation or restoration, public policy, economic development, natural resource management and other community-building projects.

“This multi-disciplinary degree prepares students for careers in community building and project leadership,” said Joe Corsini, an EOU biology professor who will teach courses in the Sustainable Rural Systems program starting this fall. “These multi-year projects connect theoretical concepts to the realities of working with agencies, nonprofits and businesses, and teach students to think creatively as they guide rural communities into the future.”

“This program is designed to put students in leadership positions to complete hands-on projects.”

Les Penning, CEO of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC

Students select a concentration in either Environmental Resources or Economics of Rural Systems and move through the program with a cohort of peers. As they advance, students take on more responsibitity and become project managers, who model teamwork and mentorship for incoming freshmen.

In an innovative new format, students will work to solve real issues in rural communities. A partnership with Baker Technical Institute provides the program’s first cohort their long-term project: restoring former industrial and commercial sites in Eastern Oregon that have been affected by environmental contamination. With remediation, these brownfields become useful community spaces once again.

Future projects could include refurbishing a historic building, analyzing industry changes after a timber mill closes, or exploring new methods of delivering healthcare in rural areas. Students can explore a wide range of academic fields, but the program’s core includes environmental biology, economics and project leadership courses. By tailoring their curriculum toward specific interests, students can earn a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Sustainable Rural Systems.

“As an employer, we’re looking for graduates who can demonstrate their skills in the field,” said Les Penning, CEO of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC). “This program is designed to do exactly that by putting students in leadership positions to complete hands-on projects.”