Lever Initiatives fuel a historic legacy of innovation

By Tom Hallman

When South Carolina Congressman and Clemson University trustee Frank Lever crafted the law creating the national Cooperative Extension Service nearly a century ago, he set in motion a radical concept in education: a system to share scientific discoveries with the people who put that knowledge to work.

In the spirit of Lever’s vision, Clemson Extension agents are developing innovative educational programs to take the state’s economy into the 21st century. Called the Lever Initiatives, these programs offer training and professional certification for South Carolina citizens in areas that enhance sustainable agricultural production and protect the state’s water resources.

Distance-Delivered Certificate Programs will provide an umbrella for Extension workshops and training programs to develop “tracks” offering certification in a particular subject area. A team led by Matt Burns designed this approach to serve non-traditional “backyard” farmers who are new to agricultural management and preservation practices, as well as commercial farmers, ranchers and greenhouse industry professionals who wish to expand their knowledge of sustainable production practices.

The Academy for Watershed Excellence will develop a combination of online training and hands-on learning in the state’s diverse ecosystems, rivers and marine settings. A team led by Katie Giacalone designed the curriculum to increase technical skills in watershed assessment, restoration practices and protection techniques. The goal is to help developers, contractors, city planners, professional landscapers and industry use practices that prevent pollution in the state’s waterways and ponds. The academy includes the following three education programs.

Stormwater Best Management Practice Inspection and Maintenance Certification is tailored for design engineers, stormwater managers, public works staff, commercial landscapers and homeowner associations. A team led by Dan Hitchcock developed the program to prepare municipal workers to meet local codes and state regulations for stormwater management. The training can also spur business opportunities for engineering firms and companies that specialize in property management, pond management and landscape services.

Master Pond Manager is designed to provide comprehensive training in recreation and stormwater pond management. A team led by Guinn Garrett developed this program for pond owners, regulatory agencies, businesses and industries. Interactive lessons will provide a toolset of best management practices to improve pond function and water quality, and protect downstream waterways. State and local agencies that are responsible for issuing stormwater permits can also use these tools.

The Certified Environmental Landscape Professional Program is designed for landscape architects and contractors, lawn-care firms, builders and developers. A team led by Dara Park and Sarah White is developing the curriculum of landscaping best practices to protect natural resources, particularly waterways. The online program will allow working professionals to study on their own schedule. The practices apply to residences, municipal parks, commercial properties and school campuses.