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Collaborating for Success: Launch of the Environment Project Management Academy

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Posted on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

To ensure Westminster College graduates are well-prepared to operate in highly technical workplaces, professors Dr. Helen Boylan, Dr. Alison DuBois, and Brian Petrus are using a combination of their respected expertise to launch the Environmental Project Management Academy (EPMA) at Westminster.

As the world continues to make great technological and scientific strides, those trained to work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remain in high demand. But many employers have expressed concerns that STEM undergraduates, while well-versed in their disciplines, lack the critical soft skills to be successful in the workforce. STEM employers, on the other hand, are concerned about non-STEM majors lacking the basic scientific literacies necessary to succeed.

With this in mind, and after Boylan—professor of chemistry and program coordinator for the environmental science major— witnessed the positive results of environmental-science based service learning in her classroom, Boylan approached colleagues DuBois and Petrus and the concept for EPMA was born. And over this past summer, the trio learned they received a grant of more than $200,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund EPMA over the next three years.

Under EPMA, sophomores and juniors pursuing either STEM or business majors will work together on a semester-long service learning project with a community partner. Boylan will lead the development and delivery of STEM educational content and hands- on experiences for the students.

DuBois, professor of early childhood education, special education and counseling, is tasked with aligning the educational content and hands-on experiences with student learning objectives, directing instruction, and mentoring students on intangible skills. She will ultimately conduct the final assessment to determine the program for efficacy.

“Effective communication is critical during implementation of a project,” said Dubois. “Students will participate in a leadership seminar to develop their communication microskills—active listening, paraphrasing, questioning, and providing feedback.”

Petrus, assistant professor of business administration, will oversee student recruitment and developing the content for the project management aspect of the program for students. Using his 10+ years of business management and consulting experience, Petrus will also serve as mentor to students on business/project management.

Due to its interdisciplinary conception, EPMA naturally took shape as a cluster course—a combination of two courses from different disciplines addressing the same topic. Students in the program will take a semester-long cluster course including an existing 100-level environmental science course (Principles of Environmental Science) and a new 200-level project management course (Principles and Practices of Project Management).

“The cluster course requirement is one of the best examples of Westminster’s commitment to interdisciplinary approaches to education,” said Boylan. “Our students get the experience of approaching a topic or problem from multiple perspectives and disciplines. This is a valuable skill that puts Westminster students ahead of their competition in the workforce.”

In addition to the taking the cluster course, students will participate in a service learning project with a community partner—the first being a collaboration with the New Wilmington Borough. Students will complete a feasibility study on the implantation of solar energy in the borough.

“Because the borough sells electricity to its residents, it is uniquely situated to adopt green energy technologies,” said Boylan. “The students will use solar energy and weather data available at the College’s Field Station to make predictive models about the effcacy of using solar as a major energy source in this region.”

In year two, EPMA plans to collaborate with the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition (SWRC) to investigate the potential commercial applications of recovered minerals from treated coal mine drainage. Students will perform lab-scale demonstrations and studies for select applications, and eventually submit a report to the SRWC that will include cost analysis to enable the non-profit organization to evaluate future business ventures related to the recovered materials. 

The third and final project is a collaboration with the Lawrence Country Conservation District (LCCD) to address the county’s storm-water management issues. Under the plan, EPMA students will work on a storm-water management initiative that will include plans for a rain garden. Upon LCCD approval, students will install the rain garden, with the assistance of New Castle area high school science students.

As Boylan, DuBois and Petrus prepare for the launch of EPMA in the Spring of 2018, the professors are busy recruiting students, hosting information sessions and working with their colleagues to ensure students are fulfilling pre-requirements before taking the EPMA cluster. The professors are excited to collaborate on a program that will not only prepare Westminster graduates for STEM workplace, but transform their students into confident professionals.

“We envision that the EPMA program will help develop a business-competent, STEM-literate workforce that has an understanding of the major environmental issues facing our planet, project management skills, and the interdisciplinary thinking required to address these global issues,” said Boylan. 

For more information, contact Tom Fields at or 724-946-7190.