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The CER Approach

A Center for Education and Research (CER) is an environmentally and financially sustainable community center in a natural area that incorporates local educational programs, university study abroad opportunities, research professionals and schoolchildren, rural living and high-tech sustainable systems. This innovative type of facility lays the groundwork for community sustainability success through education, energy efficiency, economic opportunity and conservation. A CER provides a space for researchers, local children and adults, and university students to collaborate on local and regional problems to move towards breakthrough solutions to global sustainability challenges.

The first field site, the Pantanal Center for Education and Research (PCER), is located just outside the Jaguar Ecological Reserve of Mato Grosso, Brazil, a registered private nature reserve and an ideal place to study the Brazilian Pantanal. The Pantanal is a vast, seasonally flooded wetland with pockets of rainforest, numerous rivers, and sweeping savannas. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been ranked "highest priority" for conservation action, as it is an important stop in the migrations of many birds, and is also a haven for several rare and endangered species of animals including the Hyacinth Macaw and the giant river otter. Biological research areas include ecology, zoology, botany, conservation biology. There are also opportunities to research and develop new sustainable technologies, evaluate the CER approach as an educational and research unit, analyze cultural and socioeconomic changes, as well as analyze the impact of local ecotourism operations. As of now there are no research facilities in this area. As is typical with many conservation hot spot sites today, a handful of researchers in the area set up temporary mobile stations and have unreliable access to power, office space, food, restrooms and other basic amenities.

Researchers include university professors, scientific professionals, and adventuresome undergraduate and graduate students. The center offers the following values for clients: 1) a field station with basic scientific equipment, 2) a stable environment to conduct scientific studies with access to clean energy and water, 3) boarding and lodging with basic amenities 4) transportation, food and laundry services, 5) community involvement.
University Students
University students have shown increasing dedication to national and global citizenship as shown by the growing ranks of Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, and Peace Corps. A CER will offer a variety of commitment periods from a few weeks to two years. Depending on their interest, students may participate in research, conservation, or community educational programs.

Successful sustainable development requires interdisciplinary collaboration. Students will benefit from collaboration with peers from different backgrounds and expertise and from collaboration with researchers and the local community. Exposure to different ways of life also broadens horizons and increases global consciousness as we face many sustainability challenges over the next decades. The PCER has been successful in forming a coalition of engineering, architecture, business, and anthropology undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Michigan. PCER has also formed partnerships with Global Intercultural Experiences for Undergraduates, English Language Institute, and College of Engineering Multidisciplinary Design at the University of Michigan. Through our partnerships, this coalition traveled to Brazil in Summer 2010 to construct the facility, install the utilities, and set up operations.
Local Community
Locals will benefit from educational programs that synthesize locals' and researchers' knowledge. This will include short, for youth, as well as literacy and English courses for adults. Additionally, each CER will provide employment as the facility will be operated and maintained by locals. CERs are to be run by trained local staff members. 

CERs encourage sustainability through the Quadrilateral Effect:

1. Social Growth - The facility and a portion of the revenues shall be used to provide basic education in the community.
2. Economic Growth - a CER site will directly create employment opportunities, it will support career-focused education, and will also increase demand for goods and services in the region.
3. Technological Growth - Appropriate technology can be co-developed with the community for clean energy and water systems, and energy-efficient building designs and modifications.
4. Conservation - a CER site will promote respect of nature and local culture through scientific research and community involvement.

Future CER projects will focus on the same goals of social growth, economic growth, technological growth, and conservation. CER recognizes the uniqueness of each region and their communities. Utilizing appropriate technology and local resources ensures that our facilities are rooted in the community and regionally sustained.

Market and Revenue
CER is dedicated to sustainable development in ecologically unique regions. Effective sustainable development requires financial sustainability to ensure that the jobs, opportunities, and benefits of the facilities are available for future generations. PCER has identified two major revenue streams. One is the fees paid by researchers for the field station access, accommodation and other services they need during their visit. Second is fees generated by study abroad programs catering to undergraduate and graduate university students. The Pantanal ecosystem has been attracting increasing interest from researchers for over forty years. In a leading scientific database, the ISI Web of Science, the number of published research articles per year with the topic ‘Pantanal’ increased from an average of 5.9 per year during the 1980's to 20.6 per year during the 1990's and jumped to an average of 58.5 per year between 2000 and 2009.
The Pantanal currently attracts approximately eighty research teams each year. These teams currently stay at temporary sites with sub-standard accommodations. On average, each team consists of three researchers, resulting in sixty customers. A researcher spends about $100 per week for accommodation and office space and stays for approximately 13 weeks (3 months), generating revenues of $1,300 per researcher. The total market size from the research teams is $312,000 per annum. Over 241,000 American university students studied abroad in 2006/07, an increase of nearly 150% from 1996/97. According to the Institute of International Education, American students are increasingly choosing non-traditional study abroad destinations. Latin America hosted 15% of all American studying abroad, approximately 37,000 students. According to the 2010 Budget for Study Abroad programs of the University of Michigan, students spend an average of $125 per week on lodging and stays for 4 weeks.
The PCER is extremely stream-lined and economical in its approach.  For just under $100,000 dollars in two years, the PCER has run and sponsored six study-abroad programs (a total of twenty-five undergraduate and graduate students), as well as purchased a vehicle and built a high-tech facility with numerous high-tech sustainable systems.  Comparable study-abroad programs have cost as much as $260,000 for fifteen people without constructing a building.  We believe that it is our duty to donors and sponsors to maintain fiscal transparency, as well as to maximize the impact of each dollar spent.

Profits and Sustainability
Profits generated by PCER will fund local educational programs and will also be used for establishing CER field stations in other conservation hotspots. First, the impact of the CER will be investigated.  Then, the PCER will be used as a pilot program and testing ground for both the CER approach and for individual sustainable technologies.  Countless conservation hotspots exist in Brazil and worldwide, including in parts of Madagascar, Borneo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Peru, among others. 
CER recognizes that while sustainability challenges are global, successful solutions are based in local communities. Through interdisciplinary collaboration among students and professionals we are confident that we can contribute meaningful progress towards conservation and sustainable development on a global scale.