Goshen College to launch first master’s degree program, in environmental education

Building on its 25-year history of offering quality environmental education programming for K-12th grade students, Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College will offer a Master of Arts in Environmental Education program – the college’s first master’s degree.

The Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association of Colleges and Schools officially accredited the program on Sept. 11. All of the courses for the degree will be taught at Merry Lea and the requirements for the program will be completed in one calendar year – starting in July and ending the following June. The first cohort of students begins July 2008.

“Merry Lea is an ideal environment for graduate education in that it provides many opportunities for research and study of multiple ecosystems, in addition to excellent facilities specifically designed to support and enhance environmental education,” said Goshen College Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Anita Stalter. “Faculty and staff at Merry Lea are academically well prepared to offer a graduate-level program and are experienced practitioners in the field of environmental studies. Undergraduate students at Goshen College will also benefit as they observe the opportunities that advanced study can bring.”

Annually, 7,000 students participate in a wide variety of environmental education programs at Merry Lea. “Exposure to and engagement with the K-12 program at Merry Lea will create important learning experiences for each graduate student,” said Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea. “Learning will occur through modeling by the professional environmental educators and through direct involvement in guiding learning experiences for K-12 students. The master’s program is designed with the best practices in inquiry-based education.”

Merry Lea, located near Wolf Lake, Ind., is among the best-assembled land preserves in Indiana and contains a diverse group of Indiana ecosystems. The 1,150-acre preserve contains a wonderful complex of wetlands, bogs, lake shores, upland and lowland forests, prairies and meadows. “A distinctive aspect of this program is an immersion in natural history, which includes utilizing various media to record observations and using scientific methods for ecological field research,” said Gascho. “The program will help students to become well grounded in the concepts of ecosystems, which is essential for environmental educators.” Each student will study an ecosystem throughout the yearlong program.

Goshen College President James E. Brenneman said, “This new master’s degree program truly reflects the core values of Goshen College. Being a Christ-centered institution reminds us that central to Christ’s calling was redemption of the whole creation, human and nonhuman alike. Our desire to be global citizens calls us to consider how our actions affect all of creation. Goshen College’s Master of Arts in Environmental Education positions our students to become the thought leaders in environmental education for the 21st century.”

In April 2006, Merry Lea dedicated the first phase of Rieth Village, a cluster of three earth-friendly buildings which are Indiana’s first to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system’s highest standard. The facilities demonstrates Merry Lea’s commitment to sustainable green architecture and will provide an ideal setting for undergraduate and graduate ecological field studies.

According to Gascho, the degree program is built around three major components: core courses, an extensive practicum and a project. A central theme of the curriculum is the integration of ecological learning and the development of pedagogical skills. Additionally, students will focus on many practical concepts that are needed in delivering quality environmental education programs from land management to administration.

With many years of experience in delivering environmental education programs to all age levels, the Merry Lea faculty have graduate degrees in conservation biology, biological science, outdoor resources management, educational leadership, forestry and entomology. The master’s degree program will prepare its graduates to work as environmental educators in diverse settings such as nature centers, outdoor education programs, nonprofit camps, city and county parks and recreation programs, public and private schools, and independent environmental organizations.

Merry Lea has run a yearlong internship program for the past six years, designed as a precursor to the master’s in environmental education.

The Christner Memorial Foundation has recently granted funds to establish the Helen-Paul Christner Scholarship to be given to a student enrolled in the Master of Arts in Environmental Education program at Goshen College. The scholarship is established for the environmental and ecological protection and preservation of the earth with special emphasis on the flora and fauna of Northern Indiana. The recipient is to be an outstanding Hoosier student with a strong commitment to environmental education for the state of Indiana. Helen Todd Christner was an elementary school teacher in northern Indiana throughout her career. She began her teaching in a one-room schoolhouse after completing a teacher-training program. She later completed a degree in education at Goshen College in 1949.

For more information about Goshen College’s Master of Arts in Environmental Education program, contact Luke Gascho by calling (260) 799-5869 or e-mailing lukeag@goshen.edu.