To most people, post-secondary education, whether it is at a major university or a technical school, is simply a means to better employment opportunities and personal fulfillment.
Those institutions, however, can play an important role in other ways as well.
On Wednesday, a brief meeting held at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford portrayed one of those roles: A resource of manpower and brainpower that can be put to work to improve a community and ultimately save money that would have come from the public either in taxes or by contribution.
The meeting was a model of efficiency and cooperation as representatives of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways met with personnel from the U.S. Forest Service and faculty and staff from UPB about the need for an environmental study to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act prior to the establishment of a mountain bike trail on the Allegheny National Forest.
The Forest Service is constrained from issuing a permit for the trail without a NEPA study, an effort that would have cost PKP up to a half million dollars if contracted with a firm qualified to conduct such a survey. With millions required to actually build the 39-mile trail system, reducing or eliminating the cost of the NEPA study would get the wheels turning much faster.
By the end of the meeting, the representatives of the Forest Service, UPB, PKP as well as the interested parties from the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry and the Council on Tourism had hammered out an agreement where qualified students from UPB's environmental science programs could do the work of cataloguing flora and fawna and earn college credit for the field work within curriculum. The effort is a win for the students, the university and the Forest Service and saves PKP hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So often academia is seen as a closeted environment of deep thinkers and theorists out of touch with the realities of the world outside that sphere. What the cooperation of UPB's faculty and staff showed this week was that perception doesn't have to define the institution.
It should also open the eyes of other non-profits and local governments to the opportunities provided by institutions like the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.