Eldon Graham Pioneer 219
“What drives me to connect to students and connect to faculty is the community’s need for new jobs and new industry.”
It’s amazing what one little kernel of corn means to Chris Schilling, SVSU Strosacker chair in engineering. It’s about community service learning, making learning hands-on for his students. And as he sees things, corn represents one of the most important roles SVSU plays in the region and that is, addressing economic development needs by researching new technology, encouraging entrepreneurship and helping create new jobs and new industries. Wow! All of that in an ear of corn.
Chris Schilling’s gift to see things differently translates into research on alternative energy. Chris sees jobs in the waste residue of Michigan’s abundant natural materials, otherwise known as, “value-added agriculture.” Converting corn to ethanol is more than a theory for Chris. Together with SVSU engineering students, Chris installed a biomass pellet furnace fueled by dried corn kernels at the Good Neighbors Mission in Saginaw. And in the true spirit of “community service learning,” this project took on a life of its own. Chris worked with middle school kids and the Farmer’s Market on a fundraising “Corn Drive.” When SVSU engineering students weren’t prepping the site or installing the furnace, they were hanging out at the Mission and getting to know the clients on a very real basis. They also worked with Trinity St. John’s Day Care and got the kids involved. Chris even received financial support from area businesses.
This was community service learning at its best, which is all about tearing down walls between universities and the communities they serve, and working together for the greater good. So, it was no surprise to many when Chris received the 2005 Faculty/Staff Community Service Learning Award from the Michigan Campus Compact, the highest award the organization bestows on faculty and staff in the state of Michigan.
Chris humbly accepts the well-deserved accolades but credits the culture of SVSU as the real “winner.” He thinks that the fact the University is young and small enables it to be free of the encumbrances of more monolithic institutions. A corn burning furnace? Chris says in this can-do culture, he just doesn’t hear “no.” This is the unexpected bonus that Chris says will keep him from ever returning to a larger university.