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I was invited to attend the Bowman Creek Education Ecosystem (BCe2) Final Presentations on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at Lang lab here in South Bend, Indiana. It was the culmination of a unique summer internship experience and featured brief presentations from 30 interns, followed by a poster session through various spaces in Lang Lab, showcasing the work the interns have embarked on during their 10-week journey with BCe2. Projects included daylighting Bowman Creek, managing vacant lots, smart green infrastructure, storm water management modeling, energy efficiency, Arduino technology, informing healthy neighborhoods and DNA barcoding. Information technology permeated many aspects of these projects.

Several of the intern projects were continuations of classroom themes that were started in the Community Based Engineering Design Projects course partnership with SAP which included students from multiple engineering majors at the University of Notre Dame. This project-based course combined theory and practice to give students the opportunity to apply their engineering curriculum to real projects with transformative impact in a community. Students were paired with mentors and community partners to work on projects that impacted the South Bend region and beyond. SAP’s Design Thinking methodology and assets were fully integrated into the course.

The Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem is a partnership that pilots community-engaged, sustainable projects to address real world challenges in the Southeast neighborhood of South Bend, Indiana. 

The model of an educational ecosystem brings people from different backgrounds and different sectors — educational institutions, local government, and community organizations– together to tackle a community’s most challenging problems. It started in the Southeast neighborhood of South Bend, where the revitalization of Bowman Creek catalyzed the work and shaped a commitment to social, economic, and environmental sustainability from the very beginning. This same framework is used in a variety of projects, working with neighborhood residents to build a shared community.

Currently, the centerpiece of the program is a summer internship, now in its third year. It focuses on regional talent development, with the current intern team comprised of students from 13 local universities, state college campuses, community colleges, and high schools. The interns are studying 13 different disciplines, and the belief is that success stems from the variety of perspectives that team members bring. An internship like no other, BCe2 provides an environment where students can take risks, exercise creativity, and apply what they learn in the classroom to create real impact in the community.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg recently spoke about the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem on Charlie Rose’s talk show.

“And we’ve engaged them (students) in new ways. I think we have a chance to redefine what it means to be a college town or a university community. I’m part of an effort called the MetroLab Network that is a network of city university players across the country. What we are trying to do is take the substance, the intellect of what the faculty and the students are working on and apply it in the life of the city. We’ve got environmental engineering students, for example, from the University of Notre Dame, working with students in the local community college and high school students in one of the most economically challenged neighborhoods in the city, to remediate a polluted underground river. In the process, they’re learning a lot about the human factor, and we’re getting the benefit of some free labor.”

“But I think talent is not enough. And what we are trying to do is be a place where talent meets purpose. I think that’s the real stuff of the partnerships that we have — I think a mission-driven university, which is certainly true of the ones in our midst, understands that it really needs to apply the intellect to things that matter, whether it’s making low income neighborhoods better off or making sure that the community like ours has a future. They even established a physical presence in underprivileged neighborhoods like a center for arts and culture on the traditionally industrial west side of town. I think these are exactly the kinds of connections that universities and cities need to continue to develop in order to create jobs and create a more secure quality of life for the future. A lot of people, knowing only of Notre Dame, might not realize that we’re a city that is 40 percent minority, 28 percent below the federal poverty line, and really needs all the help we can get.”

The Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem is a wonderful example of applying Next-Gen talent to the most challenging urban problems in the spirit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. It was a great privilege to see the amazing work of these impressive students.

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