Collaboration Strengthens Long-Running GM GREEN Program

Guest Post by Teri Kline – Manager, Environmental, Facilities, & Materials Policy at General Motors

At General Motors, we’re excited to be celebrating two important anniversaries this year with our valued partner Earth Force.

The first is the 25th anniversary of GM GREEN (Global Rivers Environmental Education Network), a unique environmental education program that helps youth better understand their impact on local watersheds through hands-on learning experiences.

The second is the 20th anniversary of Earth Force, the organization that helped grow the program into what it is today.

GM GREEN began when Dr. William Stapp and his graduate students from the University of Michigan collaborated to develop the GREEN educational model. GM became a financial and volunteer contributor a few years later and has been involved ever since.

In those early years, our involvement depended on a dedicated group of environmental engineers to maintain the relationships with local partners in their respective communities. GM GREEN’s “watershed moment” came in 1999 when Earth Force signed on to manage the program.

Earth Force developed an outstanding hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum and each year provides training to educators, community partners, and GM mentors as well as the tools and resources needed to conduct water quality monitoring.

But the most lasting impact Earth Force has had on GM GREEN is its vision for collaboration and talent for bringing together groups that share a commitment to preserving the rivers and streams in their community.

Over the years Earth Force has helped strengthen our relationships with local partners and schools and forged new collaborations to expand the program into more communities. Thanks in large part to the team’s guidance and management, GM GREEN has grown from 16 GM facilities participating in the program to 42 today, including all our U.S. manufacturing plants.

And it continues to expand. This year we’re establishing new GM GREEN programs in seven of our Canadian communities.

By working together, we look forward to celebrating the continued growth of GM GREEN and many more anniversaries to come.

During this year’s Next Steps Institute, GM will sponsor an event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Force’s founding. Hundreds of environmental leaders will gather in our nation’s capital to reflect on 20 years of engaging youth as active citizens who improve the environment throughout the country and especially in GM communities. To register for the “20 Years: Celebrating a Watershed Moment in Earth Force History” event, visit

Birthday Reflections

Birthdays present the opportunity to reflect for most, and for Earth Force, it is no different. Our 20th anniversary celebration is happening on September 22, 2014, in Washington, DC, on the Cherry Blossom riverboat (tickets on sale here).

With our birthday party one month away, we thought it would be a great time to reflect on the amazing strides made over the past 20 years and look to the future:

“One of the most important lessons I have learned at Earth Force is that it does take a village. Earth Force found a sweet spot by focusing at the level of the community. It is at a scale that young people can immediately understand; they build connections between classroom content and real-world problem-solving, and actually see the results of their efforts. For Earth Force, that village is about the adults, all kinds of us, including businesses, schools, higher education, non profits, parents, faith-based entitites, encouraging and supporting young people as they take on efforts to improve their communities.” - Lisa Bardwell, President and CEO at Earth Force

“We launched Earth Force in February 1994 with a generous grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts and started with national awareness campaigns aimed at young people. First ‘Go Wild for Wildlife’ and then ‘Team Up For Trees’ and ‘Pennies for the Planet,’ that allowed teachers to guide young people and youth leaders not only learned the facts about environmental issues, but also learned how they could act constructively to make a difference.” - Roy Gamse, Earth Force’s first President

“I describe myself as a person who likes to ‘keep it real.’ As a participant, board member, and now as an instructor facilitating the Earth Force Process I take pride in the program’s ability to engage youth in researching relevant issues in their communities and finding realistic solutions to solve them. These skills stand out in the highest quality leaders, activists, and thinkers and I’m happy to enculturate these aptitudes in young people.” - Asia Dorsey, former youth and current Program Facilitator at Earth Force

“Over the last couple of years, Earth Force has made an amazing transition, shifting from a primarily on-site teaching and training organization to a matrix style structure that takes advantage of its core competencies of partnership development, data analysis, and instruction enhancement. Throughout these changes Earth Force has remained true to its mission, and indeed even expanded its scope and influence, in providing services that prepare young people to contribute to their communities, especially in areas with the highest needs.” - Jonathan Essoka, current Earth Force Board member

“I’ve celebrated many birthdays as an Earth Force staff member – 9, in fact! But before coming on as staff, I was a partner for the Indiana GM GREEN program for 3 years. Over the course of these years I’ve had the amazing fortune to witness the power of partnership firsthand. I am a firm believer in the village support model and love that I get to help create that Village of Support for young people all across the country. We are indeed a Force – a powerful force!” - Jan Sneddon, Director, Center of National Partnerships at Earth Force

Join us on September 22 to celebrate and share your personal reflection.

 RSVP Now.


STEM Underground

Guest blog by Kurt Moser, Earth Force Senior Program Manager

To dig deep into the topics of sustainability and STEM, as with any significant excavation, we would be wise to first dial 811. Even if you haven’t called “Miss Utility” before, you might recognize the spray-painted street art as indicative of digging about to take place nearby. It is a reminder that much of the infrastructure we depend upon in daily life is invisible to us, hidden underground.

You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the value of drinkable water, electricity, communications networks, home heating and cooling, sanitary sewerage, and other modern conveniences, yet much of the infrastructure that makes these amenities possible is hidden, out of sight and out of mind. It is a testimony to the work of engineers that we can be so unaware of the systems that support us.

It’s easy to take these systems for granted and to forget their environmental significance. How many of us understand what it means environmentally when we take a hot shower–using potable water? How many of us know what the American Society of Civil Engineers means when it says our infrastructure earns a grade of D-plus? These questions are at the nexus of STEM and sustainability.

STEM education is where we will develop the next generation of engineers, scientists, and technological problem-solvers – and we will need them; we are still living largely on the infrastructure of the 1950′s, and will soon need infrastructure for the 21st century. But STEM education is also essential for the next generation of policymakers, voters, and citizens; they must be prepared to make the necessary decisions and investments to make goods and services in the 21st century possible and sustainable for generations to come.

In the Promoting Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship through STEM pathway, we explore how STEM and environmental learning support one another by investigating practical application and partnership-building. We’ll find out how Western Kentucky University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration address STEM from the perspective of ecology, with examples of real-world applications. We’ll see how United States Department of Agriculture and 4H use community mapping to provide students with a connection to place and how partnerships in organizations like the DC Environmental Education Consortium bridge STEM, sustainability, and environmental literacy goals. Pathway participants will come away with a clearer understanding of how environmental STEM prepares today’s students for career, college, and citizenship.

 Register for the Next Steps Institute!