In spring our thoughts may turn to baseball, but also to how an Ursinus liberal arts education produces good stewards of the earth. When class work encourages civic engagement and spawns partnerships that benefit the greater Collegeville community, it is a win for all.
Lifelong skills often are fostered in situations beyond the classroom where the opportunities for teamwork and problem solving may be most vividly realized in an internship or community service project. Recently our Environmental Studies faculty obtained grants from the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund and the Pennsylvania TreeVitalize Program to plant trees in Hunsberger Woods, a protected area near the campus that Ursinus owns jointly with the Collegeville Borough. Our students embraced this partnership, as they did two years ago when a course (Adaptive Conservation and the Land Ethic) allowed them to partner with the borough to create a stewardship plan for Hunsberger Woods. The students were so enthusiastic that many continued to work on the project long after the class ended.
Area high school students benefitted from linking the Science in Motion program and Professor Leah Joseph’s fall Global Climate Change class, which resulted in a student-created lab and video for high school classes. More than 1,100 students at different local schools have used this lab—it was requested so often that a duplicate copy of the video needed to be made, says Dr. Joseph.
Across disciplines, Ursinus faculty are integrating experiential learning and civic engagement in syllabi. This coming fall in Environmental Studies, a Forests and People class will require students to map area forests using online software. In another class students are completing oral history interviews with elected officials as part of a “landscape ethnography” to support the work of the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy and local land trusts. In the course, Food, Society and Environment, students met every week last fall at the nearby Longview Center for Agriculture, which resulted in a student being offered an internship.
Ursinus students gain experience which often leads to jobs or graduate school. Regan Dohm, 2012, is with the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin practicing team work, outreach, and “broadly thinking about healthy ecosystems.” Senior Shakiya Canty, a philosophy major with a minor in Africana Studies, compiled an oral history of long-time West Philadelphia residents who had farmed vacant lots. She is now studying the implementation of a community garden. This work has contributed to her desire to attend divinity school following graduation.
Students are applying critical thinking skills in their work with professional partners and community constituents. “The emphasis is on the development of both intellectual skills and leadership expertise in ways that prepare the students to be competitive in their post-graduate careers,” said Professor Richard Wallace.
A rewarding experience for Senior Deirdre MacFeeters was being selected as an Environmental Protection Agency Greater Research Opportunities Fellow. Last summer she worked for the U.S.-Mexico Border program and the Latin America programs at the EPA Office of International and Tribal Affairs in Washington, D.C. “In many ways,” she says, “my internship reinforced and gave me a greater understanding of concepts I had learned in class at Ursinus.”
Junior Megan Maccaroni believes she has become a “critical and analytical thinker” through “opportunities to apply what we learn, to make a difference in our community.” Planting a rain garden in Hunsberger Woods was one such experience, she says.
Office of Sustainability fellows like Deirdre and Megan gain leadership skills by running programs such as the College’s organic farm, recycling education, EcoReps (outreach), and the Take Back the Tap water education program. The May Move-out program encourages students to donate unwanted items for reuse rather than fill dumpsters.
Many of these projects have grown over years. Dr. Wallace and Katy (Diana) McSurdy, 2003, pioneered the organic farm 10 years ago. New student farm director Dean Scott, a junior Biology major, will work with the Collegeville Farmer’s Market in 2013 to set up a produce booth.
Ursinus College’s leadership in sustainability was highlighted in a report undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Small Business Development Center. (The report will be available online in April.) As a signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the Office of Sustainability has developed a Climate and Sustainability Action Plan for multi-building campus energy efficiency strategies and campus and community education.
Join me in applauding Ursinus’ inclusion in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges again this April. And perhaps I will see you on the trail riding a bike from Bikeshare: sign up at www.ursinus.edu/sustainability.
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