With research showing that over 13% of the people in Jefferson County, including 20% of the children, don’t always have enough to eat, students in a new first-semester program have initiated several projects to address this need.

The projects range from encouraging farmers and gardeners to grow extra food to contacting retailers to reclaim unsold food rather than having it go into a landfill.

The new program is entitled “Global Solutions: Consciousness and the Challenges of the 21st Century.” Rather than switching courses every block, students move through the whole semester as a group. 

“This is a ‘learning community,’ and it’s highly innovative,” said Craig Pearson, vice president of academic affairs, who conceptualized the program last fall. “It’s transdisciplinary, it’s very hands on, it’s based around real-world projects. It emphasizes developing vital life skills, such as communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork and leadership. It uses narrative evaluation instead of letter grades. And of course it’s Consciousness-Based.”

In fact, students taking the 18-week program automatically satisfy a range of core requirements, such as composition, mathematics, critical thinking, and health-related fitness.

“Our purpose is to make learning more meaningful and relevant while creating global citizens who can think deeply and critically about challenges from the local to the international level,” said Ken Daley, who is leading the course along with Professor Johan Svenson.

The students began by studying global challenges and solutions, and then transitioned to examining how a specific global problem — food insecurity — is expressed locally. Then they took on several projects to address this need.

Representatives of various Fairfield organizations met with the students to pitch ideas for approaches the students could take. The students selected projects and formed into teams, each team taking the lead on a particular project.

“The team-based, project-based, learning community approach gives students the opportunity to effect real change,” Dr. Svenson said.

The initiatives include starting a local chapter of Grow a Row, a national effort to encourage farmers and gardeners to grow an extra row of produce and donate it to a local food bank such as The Lord’s Cupboard in Fairfield. To incentivize gardeners, the students will help them to create specialized raised beds. 

Another team is focusing on educating people about local food insecurity. Their activities include teaching elementary cooking and food preparation so residents can learn how to eat healthy food on a tight budget.

Another team is working on food reclamation, encouraging local food suppliers to donate food that would otherwise go into a landfill. 

“The Global Solutions course has shown me that almost all major world issues show up in communities here in America,” said student Jordan Pugsley. “I’ve been inspired to take action in my home communities, and that is what will heal the world as a whole.”

Mr. Daley said everything about the new program feels different from a regular classroom. “It feels like a learning community, not a one-way transmission of information. We are ultimately creating a deep dialogue on the challenges of the 21st century, and learning how to become change agents.”

“Global Solutions has embraced the fire in all of us to be a part of real change,” student Kelly Urban said.