RCE Shenandoah Valley - 2023

Youth Leadership to Accelerate Innovation
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Youth Leadership to Accelerate Innovation
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Shenandoah Valley
Contributing organization(s) : 
James Madison University
Bridgewater College
Eastern Mennonite University
Mary Baldwin University
Blue Ridge Community College
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Carol Lena Miller
Organizational Affiliation: 
James Madison University
Format of project: 
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Friday, August 25, 2023
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Harrisonburg, VA
Address of focal point institution for project: 
James Madison University
800 S. Main Street, MSC 4302
Harrisonburg, VA 22807
Target Audience:
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
Primarily an agricultural region, the Shenandoah Valley features many farms (poultry, dairy, beef cattle, and crops/vegetables), and is surrounded by National Forest and National Park mountainous areas. The scenic beauty of the region is renowned. The region has only three major cities, which account for about 25% of the total RCE regional population of approximately 320,000. Key industries include light manufacturing, agribusiness, transportation, and information technology.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
Area farms are slow to adopt sustainable farming practices. Industrial agriculture, including commercial interests to maximize output and profits, is dominant. Water quality is compromised due to detrimental agricultural practices. Also, the region includes pockets of poverty and low-income populations. The city of Harrisonburg is a refugee-resettlement locale with significant diversity, income disparity, and shortage of affordable housing.
August, 2021 to August, 2023
The RCE Shenandoah Valley region includes 5 institutions of higher education, including one large public university, three small private institutions, and one community college. Very few opportunities exist for collaborative work and interaction among the HEIs and between the students and the communities where they are located. Students have limited opportunities to understand the region, the work of community-based NGOs, the academic pursuits of students in neighboring HEIs, or how the SDGs can be applied to local challenges.
Structure the Sustainable Shenandoah Valley RCE to include all 5 regional HEIs and in a way that fosters shared responsibilities and student leadership

Develop at least 2 annual public-facing events that feature student scholarship, the SDGs, and community activism

Build relationships between and among academic and community representatives
Activities and/or practices employed: 
The SSV Steering Committee includes faculty representation from each HEI, and meets monthly (roughly)

In 2021, the SSV Steering Committee developed the concept for two annual events: the Student Sustainability Summit (a spring event) and Sustainable Development in Action (a fall event)

Event hosting rotates among the SSV HEIs

Students, with support from faculty members of the SSV Steering Committee, lead planning and implementation of events

Students who have leadership roles attend Steering Committee meetings

Students are encouraged to be innovative in their planning and how they incorporate the SDGs
Size of academic audience: 
60-70 (each event)
Hosting for the two annual events is rotating nicely among HEIs

Students are volunteering for leadership and are enthusiastic, innovative, and effective

Events are well-attended by students, faculty, and community representatives

The events feature on-the-ground SDG-related projects/research that are taking place in academic and in community settings, and attendees report that they gain significant insight into what’s happening on campuses, what’s happening in the community, and how the two can mutually benefit one another
Lessons learned: 
Need better documentation post-event from student leadership year to year, to lessen burden on new host students and faculty members

Think about how to continue/bolster academic and community/NGO partnerships

How to build upon event successes to 1) build cross-institutional relationships and partnerships and 2) further SDG education in the community
Key messages: 
Our RCE structure allows students to lead two innovative annual events where representatives from the 5 partner institutions join with community activists to share research, projects, ideas, and local initiatives in a way that is innovative and synergistic. The SDGs are front and center, and meaningful connections promote future collaboration.
Thus far, hosting institutions have been able to provide free facilities and parking as well as contribute limited funding toward food/refreshments for events.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon Picture1.jpg (99.85 KB) Students in Leadership @ the Student Sustainability Summit
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 2 - Transforming learning and training environments 
Priority Action Area 4 - Mobilizing youth 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level 
I acknowledge the above: