Bennington College receives $290,000 for new environmental fellowship

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BENNINGTON — Bennington College has been awarded a $290,000 grant to launch a new funded fellowship program for students to work in nonprofits with a focus on environmental justice.

The four-year grant from the New York-based Endeavor Foundation will enable the launch of the Endeavor Foundation Environmental Changemaker Fellowship Program.

The fellowship extends the college's commitment to work-integrated learning by combining hands-on work experience with education and mentorship, giving students the skills, capacities and experience to advance environmental justice causes and address complex societal challenges, according to a media release from the college.

"We see ... that areas of social justice are intersectional," said Faith McClellan, associate dean of work-integrated learning at the college. "Areas of racial and economic justice and legal issues, and immigration issues, they all connect, and one central unifier in today's world seems to be the prescient issue of environmental justice. Moreover, many of our students really see that climate justice and immediate, actionable change around environmental policy is an area of dire concern, and an area where our students are highly motivated to participate."

The college was invited to apply for funding after initial conversations with the foundation, McClellan said.

The new fellowships in environmental action are a "natural extension" of the college's distinctly experiential approach to learning, and its commitment to empowering students in their pursuit of solutions to the world's most pressing problems, said Isabel Roche, interim president of Bennington College, in the release.

A pilot cohort for the program will be selected this summer, and may include as few as 10-12 students, McClellan said.

The fellowship will formally launch in January 2021 over Field Work Term, the college's annual six-week internship experience. These larger cohorts could include as many as 20-25 students, McClellan said.

The college has a cohort model of student learning through fully funded fellowships in several areas, including theater, arts and technology and population health, "but one area of critical demand is environmental justice," McClellan said.

Last term, half of all Bennington College students took a course in public action, sustainability or the environment, said Natalie Redmond, associate writer for the college, in an email.

Although more than 60 percent of Bennington College students work in the nonprofit sector, the vast majority of those positions are unpaid, she said.

"This gap leaves out many talented students who cannot consider work in these fields without financial support and represents a structural inequity that reverberates far beyond Bennington," McClellan said in the release. "With The Endeavor Foundation's generous support of this Fellowship, we can work to correct these inequities while also providing more students with opportunities to make change in our world."

Funding for the fellowships will be adjustable, based on a student's budget.

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Costs might range from something like $2,000 for a fellowship in a lower-cost area, or one where a student has access to free housing, to $3,000 or more in an area that has high housing costs, McClellan said.

Sixty-five percent of the grant funding is for student grants, 20 percent is for faculty mentoring and teaching associated with the fellowship, and the remaining 15 percent is budgeted to support travel costs, events and technology, Redmond said.

In connection with the hands-on learning provided by their internships, Environmental Changemaker Fellows will develop together as a peer-supported cohort through pre- and post-fellowship courses, bolstered by faculty mentorship, according to the release. Courses will be led by Judith Enck, senior fellow at the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action and founder of the Beyond Plastics project, which empowers college students around the country to reduce plastic pollution, according to the release.

In advance of their fellowship, students will enroll in a one-credit course designed to enhance their knowledge of the complexities of environmental issues and give them the leadership and communication skills needed to facilitate community-driven work, according to the release.

Several mentoring sessions will be held over the course of Field Work Term, led by Enck and guest presenters from the environmental and social justice fields.

After the fellowship's conclusion, students will participate in a one-credit course that will encourage them to examine their experiences as changemakers from sociological, cultural, and critical lenses, and to reflect on how they, as future leaders, want to serve, according to the release.

The college initially considered a broader focus for the grant, with funding for more changemaker fellowships in other areas, but available funding wouldn't be able to fully support that goal, said Ashley Kidd, program director for grants and research at the Endeavor Foundation.

"We just needed to narrow it," Kidd said. The college narrowed the focus to environmental, she said.

This is the first grant of this kind from the foundation to the college, Kidd said, but the foundation has supported the college in the past with other grants, as well as funding for CAPA.

The grant is distributed in "more or less" equal amounts per academic year, although the amount will increase slightly from year to year because of rising costs, Kidd said.

The college received the first portion of the grant funding — $67,500 — last month, she said.

The foundation would also consider renewing the grant, in light of its priorities at that time, Kidd said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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