Institute for Ecological Regeneration

The Institute for Ecological Regeneration is committed to bringing renewal and vitality to ecosystems through research and education. Humankind is part of—not separate from—local, regional, national and global ecosystems. Humans have adversely impacted many natural systems — necessitating the call for transformative practices. The institute will study natural history, biotic and abiotic systems and the intersecting human dynamics. The institute will use the best investigative techniques and apply imagination to achieve an improved care and stewardship of creation. Principles of faith and shalom will guide the choice of actions to bring regeneration to ecological issues. The goals of the institute will be achieved through a team of experts, collaboration with other researchers, educators and agencies, and the context framework of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College.

Key activities

Projects and programs of the institute are designed on the integration of three core themes: land, environmental education and faith. Conducting research, maintaining field collections and data, delivering formal academic courses, hosting symposia and disseminating learnings through various media to an array of publics will achieve the goals of the institute.

Staff members and facilities

Dr. Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea, is the director of the institute. Staff members at Merry Lea with roles in the institute are: Dr. David Ostergren, director of the graduate program in environmental education; Dr. Dale Hess, director of the agroecology program; Lisa Zinn, director of the sustainability semester; Bill Minter, director of land management; Paul Steury, coordinator of K-12 environmental education programs; Jennifer Schrock, coordinator of public programs; and Dr. Ryan Sensenig, field researcher. Faculty from Goshen College and other institutions of higher education will join in the interdisciplinary work of the institute. The Institute for Ecological Regeneration is housed at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College. The 1,189-acre preserve provides a context and framework for the regenerative work of the institute. The facilities include classrooms, offices, a library, housing, field study sites and agroecology plots.

Current and planned research

The institute pursues research in field-based ecology, environmental education pedagogy and practice, creation care and stewardship and sustainability in systems. Examples of questions that will be explored are:

  • What comprises a healthy regional landscape for all creatures?
  • How does environmental education influence behavior?
  • How do theology and faith belief systems inform environmental stewardship in congregations?
  • How should the principles of peace and justice be applied to achieve effective Earth care practices and policy?

Current and planned programs

Formal programs include an agroecology summer intensive and a Sustainability Leadership Semester for undergraduate students, a master’s in environmental education, and conferences and symposia on topics of ecological stewardship.

Explanation of the institute’s “Transformation from Theory to Action” statement

“Engaging land, community, faith and peace”

Regenerative activities are informed through observations in life systems. The ways in which organisms interact with each other and with their environment form the basis for theories, concepts, and practice. Applying these understandings to real life issues in ways that are renewing and life giving is transformational. The institute provides a context for studying, integrating and applying the interdisciplinary constructs of resilience of the land, responsibilities of people in community, and commitments to peace and justice.

The role of undergraduate/graduate students in the institute

Undergraduate students will have direct involvement in the goals of the institute through inquiry learning and problem solving in formal coursework in agroecology, sustainability, environmental science and interdisciplinary studies. They will also have opportunities to conduct research projects in the summer with the team of experts.

Each graduate student in the environmental education program chooses a project from one of the following areas: field ecology, environmental pedagogy, or environmental issues. In addition to research aspects of the project, they develop curriculum related to their topic for various age groups. The graduate student projects tie into the disciplinary foci of the experts at the institute.

Why the institute matters

The disconnect between people and their ecological home has led to a lack of care for the Earth. The goals of this institute will address this gap by engaging deeply in learning about systems, drawing people to participate in this learning process, and calling people to practice regenerative living. This uniquely positions Goshen College to be a transformative change agent through the themes of ecological regeneration and global citizenship.

Contact Info

If you have questions about The Institute for Ecological Regeneration, contact Dr. Luke Gascho.

Dr. Luke Gascho

Dr. Luke Gascho

Executive Director of Merry Lea