Unity College: Walking the Walk Since 1965
A small college established in Unity, Maine in the 1960’s due to economic necessity has evolved into an unlikely success story and a haven for environmental education. Established on what was once a chicken hatchery, Unity College has grown from humble and precipitous origins into Unity’s largest employer and an example of sustainability and non-traditional education.
Located in the scenic mid-Coast county of Waldo, Maine, Unity College proudly applies the title of “America’s Environmental College,” a moniker earned through years of financial insecurity, perseverance, and a growing dedication to environmental activism and education. Established in 1965 by a group of local businessmen, Unity College has since become a welcoming environment for students looking for an education that centers on ecology, sustainability and global change. Students who graduate from Unity College are poised to become productive leaders in the spheres of environmental activism, business and political policy. Hands-on courses get students out of the classroom and interacting with nature, while intercollegiate and club sports including soccer, ice hockey and ultimate Frisbee cultivate an active and competitive community.
Recently, Unity College appeared in Detroit Public TV’s documentary Beyond the Light Switch for their role in reigniting a national dialogue on renewable energy. This debate has its origins in the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who in 1979 put 32 solar panels atop the White House in a symbolic statement on the future of energy. President Carter predicted, accurately, that the solar panels might possibly come to symbolize “a road not taken,” which is exactly what happened when they were removed during the Reagan administration and stored in a cavernous government warehouse to collect dust. Unity College enters the story in the early ‘90s when then-development director Peter Marbach (now a fine arts photographer living in Oregon) asked the US government if he could take the unused panels for use at Unity College. The General Services Administration assented and Marbach personally picked up the unused solar panels from the federal warehouse. 16 of the 32 panels then went to heating Unity College’s cafeteria [pictured] for over a decade. Since then, many of the solar panels have been loaned out, donated, or put in storage. Last year Unity College earned some press for donating one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels to the Himin Solar Energy Group of China, to be put on display at the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou....
Most of the solar panels may be gone but their legacy is not. President Barack Obama plans on reinstalling solar panels on the roof of the White House, this time above his private residence in the East Wing. Unity College is more sustainable than ever, making it onto The Princeton Review’s 2010 Green Honor Roll and adding Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Energy to their list of 2012 Majors. Unity College President Stephen Mulkey and his wife Michele Leavitt reside in the Unity House, which uses solar panels and extra insulation to be as energy-efficient as possible. It was constructed by Bensonwood Homes as a “Net-Zero” building, in that it creates as much energy as it consumes and puts out no carbon emissions. This is just one example of Unity’s philosophy: it is not enough to talk about environmental change, it must be lived. They’ve been proving this point for 46 years now, and it seems they’re only just beginning.
You can follow Unity College's Sustainability Blog here.
[photos courtesy of Unity College]
[written by Jon Ross]