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Cedar Valley College Takes Sustainability Beyond the Campus

by Sheila Julson


Maria V. Boccalandro, Ph.D., director of sustainability and programs of the Office of Advancement at Cedar Valley College (CVC), one of seven schools in the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD),has a background in urban and regional planning. At CVC, she is in charge of leading and coordinating sustainability initiatives on campus and beyond. 


On campus, many sustainability initiatives have been implemented, making them the winners of two important national sustainability awards. They have a unique student Green Cord graduating option, where students complete three green courses, making them more competitive in the job market.

Because CVC is the DCCCD school farthest south of the Dallas Metroplex area and located in a logistics hub that’s prime for development, Boccalandro has taken sustainability initiatives to the community by reaching out to stakeholders in southern Dallas and northern Ellis counties through the annual Sustainable Economic Development Roundtables (SEDR) discussion. 


“There’s a whole amount of land that needs to be developed, so we’ve been convening our stakeholders in Duncanville, Lancaster, Cedar Hill, Red Oak, Hutchins and other cities,” she explains. “We’re working with them and envisioning what the development has to look like, so we don’t lose the culture, natural landscapes and attributes we have, while at same time improving quality of life for the region.” 


With many good jobs located as far as Irving and Plano, residents in the CVC area frequently have to commute north. Through the annual roundtables discussion, stakeholders look at how to create better paying jobs in the area so people can work closer to home. Topics discussed include social equity, clean energy and environmental responsible development that enhances the quality of life for all the region’s citizens.


CVC has strong alliances with the Best Southwest Partnership, dedicated to promoting the advantages and benefits of living in and investing in Southern Dallas County and Northern Ellis County. In addition, the roundtables discussion bring in city planners, economic development directors, students and faculty. As members of the community, they share their vision for how to improve transportation, food security and have more resilient cities. Boccalandro brings in leaders and experts from other cities to discuss their success in sustainable economic development and climate action plans.


“Cedar Valley College is the convener of neighbors, government institutions and nonprofits in think-tank sessions to discover where we are and where we should be going,” she says. “We look at examples of what other cities are doing well and come up with proposals and ideas that are adequate for our region.” 


The SEDR draws participants from important institutions such as North Texas Council of Governments, the Greater Dallas Planning Council and EarthX. “It’s a positive, multidisciplinary approach, creating a safe space so everyone can contribute and feel like part of the future we are creating.”


Boccalandro is part of the National Council for Science and the Environment. Through their annual NCSE conference, she met Dr. Paul Lussier, professor and director of the Yale Science Communications with Impact Network. Boccalandro was moved by his talk on building bridges between scientists and policy makers, and the importance of creating a narrative about climate science and sustainability that would reflect the values of those that live in a particular place. 


Boccalandro and Lussier teamed up to create a partnership between students of the CVC Green Club, Phi Theta Kappa and Lussier's bachelor and graduate students from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “His graduate and undergrad students came to Dallas and did a stakeholder analysis. 


The initiative included a Yale student’s proposal which outlined a design for an off-grid building for students to live and learn about smart buildings, that also has the capacity to plant food on the rooftop. Three CVC students also went to New Haven, Connecticut, to join Lussier’s class.


Due to the recent COVID-19 crisis, the Sustainable Economic Development Roundtables Discussion originally scheduled for Apr. 17 has been postponed until further notice. Please check the website, CedarValleyCollege.edu, for updates.


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