How It All Started: "the Oregon Model"

An Unprecedented Scale

In 2009, the University of Oregon pioneered a radically simple framework to help students gain hands-on experience while simultaneously helping a community work on its own locally-defined goals. What emerged through an iterative and bottom-up process was the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP), a framework based around a year-long partnership between the university and a single city in which existing courses are directed towards that city’s self-identified ‘real-world’ quality of life projects and plans. What started with a hope to match five courses with a single city to pilot a new type of partnership resulted in 19 courses across 8+ disciplines the first year, where students from the University of Oregon worked with the city of Gresham, about 100 miles from campus representing a new twist on the university-community partnership model.

Since then, the University of Oregon has worked with Salem (pop. 160,000, 60 miles from campus; 25 courses), Springfield (pop. 60,000, 3 miles from campus; 30 courses); Medford (pop. 76,000, 160 miles from campus; 35 courses); Redmond (pop. 28,000; 125 miles from campus; 22 courses); Albany (pop. 52,000; 45 miles from campus, 25 courses); and is now working with the Tri-Met transit agency (100 miles from campus; 30 courses anticipated) and La Pine (pop. 1,800, 110 miles from campus; 3-5 courses anticipated).  Projects often combine multiple disciplines to address problems from diverse perspectives; a large-scale approach provides a wide range of benefits for all stakeholders. The scale of engagement – typically 400+ students across 10+ disciplines and 20+ courses giving 50,000+ hours of effort to 15-25 city-identified vexing issues – expedites the introduction and adoption of innovative thinking into local government, increases the capacity to move priority projects forward, accelerates adoption of new policy and practice, re-charges city staff toward their public sector work, and trains the next generation workforce in effective, applied, multi-disciplinary approaches toward solving local quality of life issues.

In 2010, The New York Times called SCYP “perhaps the most comprehensive effort by a U.S. university to infuse sustainability into its curricula and community outreach,” and in 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education called the model “one of higher education’s most successful and comprehensive service-learning programs.” This program has received many national awards, including from Ashoka, for its unique approach to social entrepreneurship and innovation.

Flexible and Replicable

In 2011, two of the Oregon creators, Professors Marc Schlossberg and Nico Larco, began training other universities and communities how to adopt and adapt the framework through a national conference and through site visits and individual technical assistance.  There are now over twenty-five universities implementing or organizing to implement what was originally known as “the Oregon Model”, demonstrating its scalability and replicability across local government and university types.

Today, the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N) — the evolution from the "the Oregon Model" — represents a significant resource to modernize the role of higher education in society and accelerate the change our communities need to meet its social, environmental, and economic challenges.  The opportunities for implementation are widespread, from every corner of the United States to every region of the planet.  In May 2017, EPIC-N began working with the United Nations (U.N.) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the International City Managers Association (ICMA) and others to further adapt the model to lesser developed economies and countries.

What started as a small mission to affect change in Oregon by utilizing resources that already existed within the university now represents a replicable, scalable, and flexible approach to address critical issues at the local level around the world.