Green STEAM Communities is a group of researchers, educators, and activists. Our core mission is to facilitate mutually beneficial collaborations between local communities and institutions of higher education in ways that advance environmental, social, and food justice as well as the vision of the engaged university. Engaged research and scholarship involves collaborative work “conducted by, with and for communities,” (Schensul, 2010) that addresses historically entrenched problems of environmental, educational, and socio-economic equity.

For over five years we have been engaged in community-based educational and research projects in Southeastern San Diego.  During this time we have developed a two-pronged approach to accomplishing our core mission.  First, in collaboration with local community stakeholders we create and maintain projects organized around local efforts to address environmental, social, and nutritional concerns. These projects currently take the form of community gardens located in urban and suburban areas, through which we collaborate to create a nexus for community-centered development.  Second, we develop and teach undergraduate and extended learning practicum courses designed specifically to draw on the garden projects as sites for implementing educational and community building activities.  The learning activities created through these courses bring together high school students, community partners and stakeholders, scholars, and educators. The community gardens act as “living laboratories,” where participating students and community members learn about and develop skills related to urban agriculture, nutrition, environmental science, media production, social justice, community development, and the design and implementation of green technologies. The interdisciplinary and community-driven nature of this work is embodied in our name, Green STEAM Communities.

Green.  The “Green” in Green STEAM Communities refers to the central place of ecological and social sustainability in how we seek to organize our collaborative activities.

STEAM. In designing our activities, we aim to create alternative pathways for participants to develop their skills and understanding of the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM have long been a focus of educational research both in and out of school. The Arts have fared less well in terms of funding and research attention, and are often the first to be cut when budget problems arise.  Yet, there is ample evidence that creative, imaginative, and playful thought, so natural to the arts, are constitutive of STEM learning as well.  Our STEAM efforts are directed at finding ways of engaging learners of all ages, in and around the communities where they live, in a manner that blurs subject-matter distinctions and which incorporate playful and creative collaborative activity.  The STEAM learning activities we co-develop with our partners are always settings of “mutual appropriation” (Downing-Wilson, Lecusay, Rosero, & Cole, 2012 ) — both community and university participants benefit from locally appropriate mutual engagement.