EPA's College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP) Program

May 1, 2018

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This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Established in August 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) CUPP program provides a creative approach to partnering and delivering technical assistance to small underserved communities from local colleges and universities at no cost to the communities. By leveraging academic partnerships, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Native American Colleges and Universities, the program combines environmental justice concerns and mission-related objectives of multiple agencies with core curriculum objectives of local colleges and universities.

Program Partners

Tuskegee University students receive public input for the alternate transportation project along the Selma to Montgomery Trail
CUPP promotes interagency collaboration (federal, state, local, and tribal) with an emphasis on community engagement and facilitates public-private partnerships between schools, communities, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations. Currently, there are 64 schools partnering with more than 58 communities in 23 states.

In Georgia, EPA has worked with the following universities: Agnes Scott College, Atlanta Metropolitan College; Brunswick Community College, Clark Atlanta University, Coastal College of Georgia, Georgia College and State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Southern University, Georgia State University, Mercer University, Savannah State University, and Spelman College. EPA is currently initiating a partnership with the University of Georgia.

The program also receives support from other federal agencies, including USDA, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Department of Education, and Region 4’s Office of Public Health/HHS. Additionally, scientists, geophysicists, and other experts volunteer their time to serve in an advisory role for projects such as addressing chronic flooding issues in northern Louisiana. These organizations include the National Interagency Working Group for Environmental Justice and the American Geophysics Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange.

How it Works

UNC Wilmington teaching residents of Navassa, NC about contamination as part of a program to develop natural resources
The program supports communities that cannot afford technical assistance to address environmental, economic, or quality of life issues. Communities self-identify or are identified for support by federal agencies, colleges and universities based on the criteria listed below. Issues are identified by the CUPP Program in partnership with the community.

Criteria for eligibility include population, environmental issues, median income, poverty, unemployment, public health issues, lack of access to fresh food, and lack of access to medical care. If a community or city does not meet any of these criteria, they can still be considered for inclusion into the program.

After a community is selected, EPA identifies a university that can assist the community via CUPP. Universities agree to which issues they will provide voluntary assistance and assign the students to assist in providing the technical assistance. Each participating school works to arrange for academic credits to be earned by these students for their efforts. Federal agencies coordinate additional technical assistance as needed.

Program Benefits

Students presenting an air analysis in Lithonia, GA
CUPP fosters creative, collaborative efforts between rural and poor communities and local colleges and universities to provide technical support at no cost to the communities. Students gain valuable hands-on experience working with local governments. Their experience with CUPP serves as a resume builder and enhances obtaining job opportunities upon graduation.

Rural and poor communities benefit from the investment of innovative technical assistance and gain a sustainable source of technical assistance and planning. The presence of college students in rural and poor communities serves as an inspirational model for children in those communities.

To date, the CUPP program has completed or is scheduled to complete over 104 projects impacting the lives of over 1,000,000 people in poor and rural communities. The value of work completed from 2013 to 2016 is over $10,000,000, representing a return on investment (ROI) of 10 to 1.
Examples of current and completed projects include: 
  • Interns to assist in drinking water plant operations in East Point, GA.
  • Reducing the cost of sewage sludge disposal by using solar system to remove excess water in Darien, GA.
  • Development of an alternate Transportation Plan for the Selma to Montgomery Trail that includes revitalizing five brownfield sites as bus stops; Tuskegee University trained students to assist in economic redevelopment of other sites along the Trail.
  • Analysis of county-wide stormwater management systems and recommendations for improvement in Pleasant View, TN. 
Upcoming projects include:
  • Recommendations on how to improve the utility infrastructure of the city of East Point, GA
  • Developing recommendations for ways to offset loss of tax revenue due to the creation of public land trusts in the Georgia Regional Coastal Commission area
  • Health education for minority youth in Navassa, NC (UNC Wilmington)
  • Development of maker space at San Juan College for the city of Farmington, NM (San Juan, Drexel University)
  • Designing solar panels to power sewage lift stations in Shorter, AL. 
For more information about the EPA CUPP program, visit the EPA CUPP website.
City officials interested in participating in the program may contact Michael W. Burns, Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator, EPA Region 4/CUPP Program Manager, at 404-562-8228 or Brenda B. Bonner, Program Analyst, EPA CUPP Program, at 404-562-8348. 

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