Energy sustainability trip to travel to Appalachia during break

by Isabel Adler | 1/17/18 1:30am

Students will have the opportunity to examine energy practices in West Virginia and Kentucky during spring break this year. The program is loosely modeled off of a similar one that last ran in 2015.

The 10-day trip will be an interdisciplinary learning experience that offers students a chance to explore energy production and its cultural and societal effects. After traveling by bus, students will look at coal mining, mountaintop removal and fracking in Montgomery and Fayetteville in West Virginia and several towns in eastern Kentucky, said Jenna Musco, assistant director at the Sustainability Office. The trip will focus on the cultural and environmental impacts of these practices and explores the direction that the energy industry is moving in.

“Energy is a topic that Dartmouth doesn’t have a focus on, and that’s going to become increasingly important in coming years, and students will be really well served by learning about it,” said Kate Salamido ’19, who spearheaded the trip’s planning process.

Rosi Kerr ’98, director of sustainability, described the trip as “a fearless look” at the American energy system.

In addition to touring different energy plants, students will interact with locals who depend on the energy system. Students will also visit different organizations that target direct community needs in Appalachia in a way that larger national organizations cannot, Salamido said. The trip will continue its previous relationship with the Morris Creek Watershed Association, an environmental conservation nonprofit in West Virginia, as well as expanding to work with other organizations such as Appalshop in Kentucky, which uses media and education to document Appalachian culture.

“The purpose of the trip is more to see a holistic vision of these energy systems,” said Kellen Appleton ’20, who became involved with planning the trip in its final stages. “We’ll hear people who directly benefit from this, as well as to hear from people being directly negatively affected. It’s a presentation of facts.”

The original trip, which was offered through the Tucker Foundation, was discontinued after the Tucker Foundation split into the Tucker Center and the Center for Social Innovation in June 2014.

In the previous iteration of the trip, students found that the service-focused design was not effective, so the current trip is instead trying to create an immersive learning experience for students, Salamido said. Students will see how young leaders can work to address problems in a community, she said.

“It’s a very all encompassing trip,” she said.

The Sustainability Office and Irving Institute hope that the spring break trip is the beginning of a larger series of trips through the College that examine energy in America, Musco said. Because of previous involvement in the area, the College already has connections and contacts in the West Virginia and Kentucky areas and the Appalachian region. Planners were also interested in the region because its history and culture is based around the energy sector.

“We’re really excited about this trip,” Kerr said. “It’s an incredible opportunity and an incredible experience. We are all users of and, whether we know it or not, die hard fans of the energy system because it enables the life that we have.”

The Sustainability Office hopes that the students who apply and participate in the trip come from a variety of different disciplines and from different regions, Musco said.

The trip will take two student leaders and nine other undergraduates along with a staff member from the sustainability office. Funding for the trip comes from the Office of Sustainability, the Irving Institute, and from students who apply and are accepted. The trip will cost $200 for students, and applications will close Jan. 20.

“Whatever your ‘thing’ is — human stories, or economic systems, or engineering — the energy system is interesting,” Kerr said.

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