One hundred and thirty-six Fulbright scholars attended the Portland Fulbright Enrichment Seminar on March 5. It was part of a three day event entitled “Civic Engagement: Environmental Initiatives for a Sustainable Future.”
“Civic Engagement” was one of 11 Fulbright seminars taking place across the country this year, according to a press release from the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State.
The scholars came from 66 different countries—including Mongolia, Botswana, Uzbekistan, Panama and many others—to study as graduate students at American universities across the country, according to the press release.
Portland was chosen by the United States Department of State for its sustainable development and innovation with civic engagement, according to the press release. The DoS coordinates the Fulbright Scholars.
Scholars stayed at The Nines hotel downtown from March 5–8 and attended panel discussions, presentations and keynote speeches. Portland’s First Lady Nancy Hales moderated a panel discussion entitled “Portland, A Model for An Environmentally Stable City: Engaging the Community” on Friday morning.
That afternoon, ISS sustainability curriculum coordinator, Jacob Sherman, presented on the Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative and the resulting eco-districts across Portland.
“The [SNI] is an excellent example of the impact of the Portland community working together to make its city more livable and sustainable for its diverse community members,” said Shenandoah Sampson, program officer for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the DoS.
SNI, started in 2013, focuses on PSU student engagement in the city. The ISS has partnered PSU with several neighborhood groups in an attempt to advance sustainability efforts, according to the Portland State website.
SNI is planning to be involved with over 30 courses at PSU, including business, anthropology, architecture and other subjects.
“One class might start a project, and then when that class ends we might be able to continue that project in, say, a business class and figure out those components,” Sherman said. “The recommendations might be to move that project forward and do some design scoping.”
Current partners include the Foster Green area of SE Portland, the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood and the Lloyd Eco-District.
Living Cully in NE Portland is described by ISS as an emerging partner.
Scholars were then treated to a catered lunch at The Nines hotel. While eating, scholars were able to socialize and discuss the seminar and Portland in general.
“I like [Portland] because it’s very European, and I’m from Europe so it reminds me of [home],” one Fulbright scholar said. “This is the kind of atmosphere that I like. It’s very compact, so you can get from place to place, which is something I miss a lot in Florida.”
Following lunch, scholars split into smaller groups and toured the Foster Green, SoMa and Living Cully eco-districts.
“[We] will take these groups of scholars to three out of four of our neighborhood partners to understand how the University is working to support and advance the goals of these neighborhood partners,” Sherman said before the tours.
Each eco-district has found a slightly different focus based on their needs, according to Sherman.
In Cully, for instance, the eco-district is working on anti-displacement activities, Sherman said. The neighborhood is in the early phases of gentrification according to PSU researchers.
“The community is literally turning a landfill into a park,” Sherman said. “It’s incredibly exciting work, and PSU students have played a small role in a project at the park, which is the inter-generational tribal garden.”
Students touring Cully were shown around the soon-to-be Thomas Cully Park, located near NE Killingsworth.
After the tour, Tony Defalco of Verde, an organization working with the Living Cully Coalition, discussed innovations at Villa de Clara Vista, a low-income housing complex in Cully.
Defalco introduced the Living Coalition’s plan to purchase and renovate a local strip club, The Sugar Shack, in an attempt to better the neighborhood.
Children from the area then engaged in a lively game of soccer with Fulbright scholars.
Saturday, Fulbright scholars worked on service projects, planting trees across Portland.
Additionally, Jennifer Allen, the director of ISS, led a reflection workshop to close the seminar entitled “Imagining a Sustainable Neighborhood.”
“Although we do not yet have the results of their evaluations, my impression is that the participants were highly engaged throughout the seminar and enjoyed learning from the seminar speakers and facilitators,” Sampson said.