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Miami pairs with Antioch for sustainability co-op

By Amanda Hancock
On January 24, 2013

College can easily feel a little different from "real" life every now and then. It's often hard to find true job experience in the college town bubble. For Miami University undergraduates though, a career-oriented approach to education is becoming more and more accessible on campus.

Miami's Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES) recently partnered with nearby Antioch College to develop cooperative education relationships in a project called the Ohio Agrarian Trade (OAT) Partnership. The goal is for Antioch and Miami students to be able to work with employers in the Ohio food and agricultural industry. 

Thomas Crist, director of IES, said the project was funded by a grant from the Ohio Board of Regents.

The two colleges will work together to identify undergraduate Miami students fit for the co-op positions and Antioch will use the grant funding to hire a part-time employee to work on establishing how the project will be arranged, Crist said.

Richard Kraince, associate professor of Cooperative Education at Antioch, approached Miami about a partnership because of its programs in environmental science and sustainability.

According to Kraince, the point of the OAT Partnership is to bring fresh ideas into the mix to prepare students for employment.

"Our hope is that the incentive will convince companies to explore the benefits of a cooperative education relationship; it is then up to us and our students to prove the value of hiring co-op students on a regular basis," Kraince said.

In this project, Miami students will be able to work for 12 weeks in the summer filling full-time job positions alongside a partner organization. Antioch students will work for similar time periods during the school year, so positions will be filled year-round. The partnership is practical for Antioch because it does not have students available for co-op this summer.

"For a tiny college like Antioch that is just beginning to extend itself to higher education partners again, this grant is a huge boost," he said.

Antioch College, located in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is small, but known for its unique approach to education. It has been the subject of several articles in The New York Times, most recently in 2011, where it is has been labeled as the most liberal of liberal arts schools.

Antioch has also had to close down four times because of financial instability. It recently opened back up to students with a heavy focus on being sustainable, he said.

"Revitalizing the historic Antioch College has made us keenly aware of the importance of investing in efforts that will benefit future generations, not leave them with systems and structures that have to be torn down and rethought," Kraince said.

This is why, according to Kraince, the partnership is a positive move for both Miami's IES and Antioch students interested in sustainability.

"We have an opportunity to build upon a legacy of creativity, invest in sustainable food production systems and be a part of the food renaissance in our state," he said.

Miami offers two co-majors in Environmental Science and Sustainability and a minor in Global Perspectives on Sustainability.

Any Miami student interested in the food and agriculture industry may participate, however students in those co-majors are most likely to have the relevant background and interests for the co-op positions, Crist said.

Though the partnership is an exciting step forward for Crist, several details remain to be sorted out.

"We are still working on the specific employers who will participate in the co-op and the kinds of work experiences that will be available to students," he said.

Kraince said he also looks forward to the process ahead.

"The grant enables us to broaden dialogue with Ohio employers, hear their perspectives, understand their needs, and work together to solve some of the problems facing agricultural producers and food production firms in our state," Kraince said.

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