Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Goshen College is announcing a new, unique opportunity for undergraduate students to earn a semester of college credit in a fairly unconventional way. Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College will offer – beginning in the fall of 2011 – the Sustainability Semester in Residence for students to live and learn in Indiana’s first platinum-rated LEED® facility located on an 1,189-acre nature preserve. A cohort of six to 15 students will engage complex problems related to the regional watershed.
“There are no other programs like it,” said Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center. “There are some that have commonalities, but none focused on sustainability that combine all of the aspects of this program in the way that we do.”
Students will be fully immersed in the ecosystems they are studying. The program will incorporate the Elkhart River watershed with an active style of learning with professors and living in community with fellow students. And while the primary focus of study will be water, students will work with broader themes like regeneration, sustainable living and eco-justice for the whole semester.
“Water is a natural central theme for our program for several reasons,” said Merry Lea Environmental Science Educator Lisa Zinn, director of the Sustainability Semester. “One is that this part of Indiana was at one time a huge complex of lakes, wetlands and swamps that were eventually drained, dramatically changing the landscape. Also, water is one of the things that we all hold in common in this area. We all depend on the water in our watershed for many things, but that water is not owned by one person or entity. Exploring how we manage and treat something that we all value and hold in common is a great model for many environmental issues of our time.”
Participating students will live in cottages that make up Rieth Village, which earned Indiana’s first platinum LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2007. Because of the building’s design, students will flush the toilet with rainwater, heat their coffee with solar power and stay cool with the help of white metal roofs and careful building orientation.
The method of teaching for this semester-long program will be problem-based learning, which means that instead of being passive consumers of lectures, students will be solving problems by asking questions, researching answers, integrating theory with practice and communicating what they learn with others. In particular, this kind of learning expects students to draw from multiple disciplines to find the best solutions. Class time will include activities such as visiting local nonprofits and canoeing on the Elkhart River.
“We believe that working on issues of sustainability can never happen from a single discipline and be very effective,” said Gascho. “One can’t just take a scientific perspective without paying attention to the human, political and faith perspectives, or else there is a big gap in terms of effectiveness in responding to real world problems.”
During the semester students will earn 15 credit hours in classes about environmental policy and politics, faith and ethics in relation to the environment, the biology of water sources and more. Though this program may be of particular interest for environmental science majors, students from all majors (and from other colleges) are invited to participate and find ways to connect sustainability with their major or a minor.
Zinn said, “We hope that students will leave this program with hope for the future and feeling empowered to be able to effect change in their own communities. We want them to understand that environmental problems are complex and that there is always a wide range of perspectives on each issue. However, we want them to leave feeling they have the tools to approach those complex problems and work with others to address them in effective ways.”
Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College is a 1,189-acre nature preserve 40 minutes southeast of the main college campus. It contains most of the ecosystems found in northern Indiana and is especially known for its wetlands. Merry Lea”s wetlands feed the headwaters of the Elkhart River and offer an ideal setting in which to study inland waters. Three lakes are part of the property, and a canoe is always handy. Ditches crisscross the property; marshes burst into frog song each spring and 50 acres of wetland restorations are busy fighting off reed canary grass. Eight miles of hiking trails meander through forests and prairies and lead to bogs, fens, shrub carr and vernal ponds.
For more information about this new program, visit: www.goshen.edu/merrylea/sustsemester/indexsust.php.