Ahead of the Curve
New assistant director of sustainability education has exciting things in store
by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
August 14, 2011
Dickinson's new assistant-director of sustainability education, Lindsey Lyons, poses for a photo prior to leading an on-campus NASA workshop for educators.
She’s a community leader who has spearheaded creative programming for nonprofits and public agencies. An administrator who has developed sustainability initiatives for two higher-ed institutions. A professor specializing in ecological restoration, stewardship of watershed systems and aquatic ecology. An innovator of experiential-learning programs. And she’s a certified K-12 teacher, too.
In all of these roles, Lindsey Lyons has kept one goal in mind: To teach people and organizations how to help make the world a more sustainable place.
“I spent a lot of years going back and forth between formal and informal education to achieve that goal,” said Lyons, who holds a master’s in environmental education and has culled a wealth of on-the-job experience in community-based educational programming.
Now, Lyons brings that expertise to Dickinson as the college’s new assistant director of the Center for Sustainability Education (CSE). “This job gives me the potential to connect faculty, students, the college and community groups—and to dedicate myself to things that I believe in personally and like practicing,” she explained. “It’s an ideal situation for me.”
Zeroing in on the perfect job
It’s taken about a decade of professional experience to pinpoint that ideal. A native of nearby Chambersburg, Pa., Lyons earned a biology degree at Lynchburg College in 2001 and went to work directing public and nonprofit programming, creating community-based outdoor schools and K-12 experiential-learning curricula.
“Education is key to a sustainable future,” she said, noting that experientially based education is central to the educational process.
After a few years in the field, she expanded her influence beyond the framework of K-12 education. Lyons moved to Oregon to earn a master’s in environmental education at Southern Oregon University and accepted a job as a natural-resource extension educator at Oregon State University.
In 2008, Lyons and husband Jonathan, who also grew up in central Pennsylvania, returned to the area to be closer to relatives and raise a family; they now have two sons: Hayden, 3, and Cohen, 1,—Lyons accepted an environmental-studies professorship at Wilson College. There, she taught environmental science and developed the college’s natural-resource and sustainability-education initiatives.
Lyons relished the chance to work with college-age students. “They are at a time in life when they’re ready to select their paths, and it’s satisfying to be a part of that process,” she explained. “You have an opportunity to build longer-term relationships, see the benefits of what you’re doing and know that you’re really making a difference.”
Still, she hoped to someday marry the most satisfying aspects of her previous work at the community level with her desire to work in higher education. She found that opportunity at Dickinson and began her new post in June.
Lyons arrives during a pivotal time in the young life of the CSE, which was launched just three years ago.
“As with any new entity, a lot of energy needed to be invested, at the beginning, to get it off the ground,” Lyons said. “Now, we have a moment to step back and hone our identity. We’re refocusing and revisioning, based on requests and needs coming in from all over campus. It’s an exciting time.”
To assess community and college needs, she has spent the summer poring over initiatives and research, sparking dialogues and building partnerships. She also has led educational workshops and planned campus programming, such as the upcoming Seeding the Future Conference (Oct. 14-15), a joint project with the college’s organic farm that's expected to attract approximately 200 participants. And she is focused on communicating CSE’s mission and vision.
There are several changes afoot. CSE is redesigning its Web site and producing new print materials that help spread the word about sustainability at Dickinson. The center now also oversees the college’s biodiesel plant. And it is moving into a newly renovated, six-office suite within Kaufman Hall that will include a conference room, a resource library and a 10-intern workstation. Naturally, the renovations comply with LEED-certification standards, and the center will include much natural lighting and room to grow. The center will hold an open house on Sept. 23, 3-5 p.m.
“Ahead of the curve”
As she prepares for the new academic year, Lyons is delighted to have found a network of like-minded people on campus. She’s grateful for that support.
“I’m very familiar with sustainability initiatives at other colleges on the West Coast and here, and I’m amazed by how ahead of the curve Dickinson is,” she said. “We don’t have to convince students, faculty members and employees that [sustainable practices are] the right thing to do, because sustainability really is a core value here.
“People welcome our work with open arms, and a lot of people are asking for my help,” Lyons continued. “That feels good.”