Small towns in rural areas face multiple challenges in responding to climate change. Many communities do not have the resources to research and implement climate actions. Universities can help bridge these gaps using their policy expertise and networks by building capacity through service-learning projects. However, connecting to small towns can be difficult; even if faculty are connected within the communities, advocates for climate change actions may struggle to get community buy-in. This paper looks at a series of successful service-learning project collaborations between Cornell University and New Lebanon, NY. The project helped propel the town to become a regional leader in climate resilience planning while ensuring strong community support. A critical success factor was picking projects and messaging sensitive to the town’s broad range of views on climate change.
Rebecca Morgenstern Brenner
Rebecca Morgenstern Brenner is a Senior Lecturer in the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy at Cornell University with additional collaborations as a Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability Faculty Fellow, Faculty Fellow in the Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, and Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies Faculty Associate. She is a co-lead of FEMA's Higher Education Service-Learning and Leadership Special Interest Group. Rebecca teaches courses on environmental policy, environmental justice, vulnerability and resilience, disaster policy, project management, and consulting. Her research focuses on translating values into practice and policy and working with communities to reduce vulnerability and build resilience. Rebecca earned an MPA from Columbia University.
Marc Anthonisen is a Lecturer in Environmental Studies and Science at Ithaca College. After working for 25 years in the financial sector in Asia, Marc is pursuing a second career focused on climate change. While studying for his MPA in Environmental Policy at Cornell, he relocated to New Lebanon, NY, due to the pandemic. He ended up redirecting his studies to support the town's climate initiatives, helping the town become the first certified Climate Smart Community in Columbia County. He earned a B.A. in Economics and an MPA in Environmental Policy from Cornell University.