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College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP)

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The College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP) provides a creative approach to partnering and delivering technical assistance to small underserved communities from local colleges and universities at no cost to the communities.  By leveraging partnerships with colleges and universities, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Native American Colleges and Universities, the program combines environmental justice concerns and mission related objectives of multiple agencies with core curriculum objectives of local colleges and universities.

Communities benefit from the investment of innovative technical assistance and approaches provided by students attending nearby academic institutions. Students benefit by utilizing their learned curriculum to gain practical experience that can serve as a resume builder, while earning course credits through their academic institution.  Federal agencies benefit from the interagency collaboration by seeing an improvement in the effective and efficient use of resources.

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Program Partners

The CUPP is designed to promote interagency collaboration (federal, state, local, and tribal) with emphasis on community engagement, as well as, to facilitate public-private partnerships between schools, communities, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations.  Currently, there are 34 schools partnering with more than 60 communities in 14 states.  The program also has support from the Civilian Conservation Corps, Regional Coastal Commission in Georgia, Union of Concerned Scientists, Thriving Earth Exchange and the following federal agencies:

  • US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • US Department of Energy (DOE)
  • US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health
  • US Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS)

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Program Objectives

The CUPP is based on developing partnerships between small, underserved communities and geographically close colleges/universities to provide a variety of technical support at no cost to those communities.  This geographical proximity enables the colleges/universities to maximize the support provided by college students in their area of academic study while being overseen by professors supporting the effort.  It is the intention of the CUPP to promote long term relationships between participating schools and communities which will create healthier and functionally improved communities.

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CUPP Conference

The 2016 CUPP conference, held in Atlanta, Georgia, included over 100 participants from various communities, federal, state and local agencies. This two-day conference (March 30-31, 2016) included opening remarks from former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, as well as sessions specifically designed for city and community leaders, academic partners, and other interested parties. Government agencies provided grant and loan trainings, the Union of Concerned Scientists provided training on how to identify and engage communities vulnerable to sea level rise, and students from various CUPP partner schools presented their completed projects.

Day 1 Presentations

Day 2 Presentations

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Program Examples

Collaboration Between Oxford University, Claflin University, And The City of Orangeburg, South Carolina

Professors from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington educating citizens on how pollutants impact local ecology and peopleProfessors from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington educating citizens on how pollutants impact local ecology and peopleAs a part of their CUPP work, Claflin University was working with merchants in the city of Orangeburg, SC to organize merchandise to improve sales and reduce crime. The CUPP Program Manager, Michael Burns, had been contacted by MBA students from Oxford University who were working with Economists without Borders. They were looking for a project to work on in collaboration with the CUPP Program. Working with Dean Charles Richardson, Mr. Burns helped to develop a project that would consider the cost benefits of reducing crime, and doing a cost benefit analysis of the increase in economic output that crime reduction would create, versus the cost of the socioeconomic programs that would help reduce crime. If the increase in economic output is greater, it would allow the city and public and private partners to gain resources to achieve future economic output, rather than just funding socioeconomic programs. Oxford and Claflin agreed to work jointly on the project, and to include an analysis of which socioeconomic programs would be most effective. The final study will be completed in the summer of 2017. This work will lead to generational changes for the city of Orangeburg, and pave the way for future efforts across the country. Great long term project!

Dean Charles Richardson (Claflin Univeristy) – 803-535-5689
Ashley Orr (Oxford University) –

Collaboration Between University Of North Carolina (Wilmington) And The City of Navassa, North Carolina

The City of Navassa, North Carolina is the site of a Superfund clean-up. Most of the impacted area includes wetlands and tributary areas. Funding for the work at the site is handled by a multistate trust. While EPA’s Superfund program handles the clean-up of the contaminated areas, the multistate trust also had funding to support millions of dollars of natural resource area projects which Superfund does not handle. Navassa was made aware of the availability of the natural resources project funding with only a few months left to submit projects for consideration. Based on a partnership established by the (CUPP, Dr. Roger Shew from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington (UNCW) agreed not only to help develop the projects, but to educate the city on the importance of the projects. His efforts gave the city a great chance to get funding for natural resources projects; without the school’s assistance, the city would not have been in the position to compete for the funding. Tremendous assist by UNCW!

Dr. Lori Messinger (UNCW) – 910-962-3687
Mayor Eulis Willis (Navassa) – 910-371-2432

Collaboration Between The City Of Selma, Alabama, Georgia Institute of Technology, And The Army Corps Of Engineers

The City of Selma, Alabama had a problem. The Alabama River was undercutting the waterfront of the city. One building had already fallen in the river due to its support being undercut. Just down river of where the building had collapsed sat the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a historical landmark of the Civil Rights Movement. What if the river undercut the supports of the bridge and the bridge collapsed? The Army Corps of Engineers (COE) had a program that would help address the issue, but the program required a 20 percent match by the city, which the city could not afford. How could this issue be addressed? CUPP reached out to the Georgia Institute of Technology to see if they could help. The school engaged students, with assistance from professors, to develop a comprehensive study of the problem, and outline the issues, and how they could be addressed. The students’ efforts saved the city over $60,000 in costs to do the work, and that effort can be used as part of the 20 percent match to kick start the efforts of the COE, helping the city to find a way to address the issue. Tremendous support from Georgia Tech!

Henry Thompson (Selma Project Manager) – – 334-874-2111 (Work) – 334-375-3011 (Cell)
Todd Boatman (US Army Corps of Engineers) – – 251-690-3143
Curtis Flakes (US Army Corps of Engineers) – – 251-690-2777
Dr. John Koon (GA Tech) – – 678-778-6763 (Work) – 404-894-9635 (Cell)

Collaboration Between San Juan Community College, Drexel University, And The Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX)

San Juan Community College sits in the city of Farmington, New Mexico, the fastest shrinking city in the country, according to the census. San Juan works hard to provide an opportunity to give the city a place where its citizens can gain the knowledge and expertise to develop businesses and opportunities to help the city move forward. The school has developed a business incubator to help give those looking to start a business a place to develop and launch their ideas. However, the President of San Juan, Dr. Janet Pendergrass, also wanted to create a maker space, to give people with high tech, mid tech, and low tech concepts a place where they could explore their ideas, and parlay them into successful endeavors. But the school needed help in finding a way to develop the design. Michael Burns, National Director of CUPP, reached out to Drexel University in Philadelphia. Drexel has a five-year engineering program, and is always looking for new projects to develop. Dr. Mira Olsen agreed to work with San Juan, committing the school to develop the design for San Juan from scratch, and also including San Juan’s two-year engineering students in the project, to let them share in the unique experiential learning opportunity. While looking at ways to assist San Juan in the development of their maker space criteria, Mr. Burns reached out to the American Geophyscis Union’s Thriving earth Exchange (TEX)for their assistance. Working with Melissa Goodwin from TEX, TEX agreed to assist San Juan with the criteria in time for the submission to Drexel in June of 2017. Drexel will begin its design work in September 2017. From over 2,100 miles away, a school is helping a school help a city in need. Fantastic!

Dr. Toni Pendergrass (San Juan Community College) – 505-566-3209
Dr. Mira Olsen (Drexel University) – 215-895-2987
Melissa Goodwin (TEX) – 202-777-7304

Collaboration Between Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute And The Valley De Oro Wildlife Refuge

Annual Community Day celebration at the Valle De Oro Wildlife Refuge. Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute developing a film and video blogs of how the community helped make the refuge happenAnnual Community Day celebration at the Valle De Oro Wildlife Refuge, at which Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute is developing a film and video blogs of how the community helped make the refuge happen.
The Valley De Oro National Wildlife Refuge near Albuquerque, New Mexico was established due to the partnership efforts of many in the community that recognized the importance of having a wildlife refuge in an urban setting. It is the first wildlife refuge in an urban setting in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The story of how the refuge was created and established is unique and important both to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Bureau, as well as the local community, and could serve as a model for similar efforts across the country. Yet no government funding could be found to tell this compelling story. CUPP National Program Director Michael Burns reached out to Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) for assistance. SIPI agreed to develop a project with students to develop a film to tell the story of Valley De Oro, to include the development of video blogs that could be used on websites. With the growing film industry in Albuquerque, it will provide students a unique experiential learning opportunity that will enhance their employment opportunities. At the same time, it will give life to a wonderful story of community and government collaboration that lead to giving urban children a chance to enjoy nature in their own backyard. SIPI has begun the development of the storyboards, and the filming effort will begin in earnest in the fall of 2017.

Kim Lambert (US Fish and Wildlife) – 703-358-2554
Jennifer Owen (White Valley De Oro Refuge Manager) – 505-248-6667 (Work) – 505-933-2708 (Cell)
Valerie Montoya (SIPI) – 505-346-2351

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Get Involved

To learn more about the CUPP program, contact:
Michael Burns
CUPP National Program Manager

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