IU South Bend faculty, interns, and alumni are important contributors to a project that recently received the Excellence in Postsecondary Education Award from the Indiana Department of Education.
The Bowman Creek Educational Eco System Partnership (BCe2) was recognized for its use of sustainability projects to address real-world problems in the neighborhood adjacent to the Studebaker corridor near downtown South Bend.
The community partnership among IU South Bend, Ivy Tech, Notre Dame, the engineering magnet program at Riley High School, Southeast Organized Area of Residents (SOAR), and 466Works began in 2012 as a program to clean up Bowman Creek after an environmental study found it was the most impaired tributary of the St. Joseph River and uninhabitable to marine life. In just a few short years, BCe2 has grown to be much more.
“We asked the question: What is the state of the creek doing to the state of the neighborhood,”said Krista Bailey, director of the IU South Bend Center for a Sustainable Future and a member of the BCe2 team. Forty years after Studebaker closed its doors the neighborhood had seriously declined. There was clear need to address issues in the neighborhood beyond the creek, and it was imperative that participants include the residents on prospective projects.
The centerpiece of BCe2 is a summer internship program. IU South Bend alumnus Gary Gilot, MS’83, MBA’89, director of engineering leadership and community engagement at Notre Dame, serves as a program mentor and adviser to the interns. “We don’t spoon-feed the interns answers,”said Gilot.“They learn to ask a lot of questions and exercise judgment with real-world problems. By the end of the eight-week internship, the interdisciplinary teams have learned how to work together to help people, explained Gilot.
IU South Bend student Chloe Deardoff, a political science and sustainability major, led an initiative to create a mural in one of the neighborhood parks after residents expressed an interest in having a display of public art there. In conjunction with South Bend’s “Best Week Ever,” members of SOAR and the Boy’s & Girl’s Club painted the mural that hides an unsightly railroad embankment in the park.
Norberto Garcia, a senior sustainability and business entrepreneurship major at IU South Bend, worked on a team with interns from Ivy Tech and Notre Dame. The group canvassed the neighborhood on the most pressing issues preventing the area from thriving. “We walked block by block and took a survey determining that poor lighting was a main issue,” Garcia said. “Talking with the people in the neighborhood helped cement our relationship with the community and the neighborhood organizations.”
The BCe2 team worked with the City of South Bend and homeowners to implement and publicize a pilot program for lighting. Homeowners paid for a portion of the installation and connected the lampposts to their electrical system while the city paid the remainder. The program provided an affordable way to combat late-night crime while beautifying the area. In April, 30 new lamp posts were installed.
BCe2 has piloted several other projects, including how to optimize the estimated 400 vacant lots in the neighborhood. Garcia's team also worked on mapping out their locations and collecting data to determine the best use for each space.
From the data, the team learned one of the most prevalent issues is basement flooding during heavy rainfalls. They came up with the idea of implementing rain gardens with native plants to soak up some of the excess rainwater. Incorporating rain gardens near homes and vacant lots can prevent excess water from flooding the sewer system and basements.
Other projects have included establishing tree farms on some of the vacant lots, which will provide trees for the City of South Bend to use in their public landscapes at a greatly reduced price. The idea did not become reality until Diane Richmond, an IU South Bend sustainability master’s student and other interns on her team found a creative solution to provide irrigation to the lots so newly planted trees would thrive.
IU South Bend School of Education faculty Teri Hebert, also an early leader on the BCe2 team, was instrumental in helping to create a curriculum that can be used in summer and after-school programs in the southeast neighborhood.
In addition, IU South Bend School of Social Work and Women’s Gender and Studies faculty Charlotte Pfeiffer has served as an important adviser to the Housing and Community Development team of BCe2.
“It’s fun to watch how interns grow over the summer,” said Bailey. “If you can get them connected with community-engaged work that makes a difference, they want to stay here.”
BCe2 Project Manager Alisa Zornig Gura, a coordinator for academic community engagement for Notre Dame’s College of Engineering, is also an IU South Bend alumna, BS'05, MPA'10. As the BCe2 business manager she on-boards the interns and manages the business side of the project.“What excites me about the program is it’s a culture where we all—interns, staff, and management—help one another reach our potential,” Gura said.
BCe2 is already working on expanding on the regional level, establishing new initiatives on South Bend’s west side and Elkhart. The next step is to pursue funding to expand the program in other regions of the country.