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Immerse in Your Watershed: Problem-Based, Service Learning for Undergraduate Sustainability Education

By Dina Chammas-Gass

This case study describes a problem-based and service learning module in which undergraduate students participated in a community-based project. Students joined a group consisting of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), public and private organizations, concerned citizens, and city officials to tackle issues concerning the local watershed. The case study took place over a number of years from 2014 to 2016 and will continue in subsequent academic years with a new group of multidisciplinary students.
Students put together documentation for a grant application that resulted in the city receiving $2.5 million dollars in grant money towards sustainable stormwater management systems. This aspect of the project included extensive data collection and analysis, much like the kind of work water conservationist in the field would perform. Students continued the work by using the data to plan and design appropriate, site-specific best management practices (BMPs) for the campus and in subsequent courses will implement these designs on site.
The mode of instruction described in this case study proved quite engaging to the students because it put them in the heart of an actual local project, doing work that was removed from a purely academic exercise – thereby offering a real-world scenario as field employees. The goal is to provide hands-on instruction that inspires and engages students and allows them to apply concepts of watershed management as a service to their local community.

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Open Spaces of Democracy: Connecting Students, Wilderness, and Community through Experiential Learning

By Eric Morgan

Chronicling a semester-long civic engagement project, this essay explores the efforts of a senior seminar course to collaborate with a local wilderness preservation organization. The essay reflects on the role of students in their communities, their connections to wilderness, and the challenges and rewards of civic engagement.

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Graduation Rates of Students Participating on Hurricane Relief Team

By Eric Lassahn

After Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Gulf Coast, Susquehanna University (SU) responded by launching the Hurricane Relief Team (HRT) program. In the past six years, SU has sent 16 teams of 15-20 students each and the program has evolved from a basic volunteer service opportunity into a service-learning experience and later into a two-week, cross-cultural service-learning program. While this study is not designed to determine whether participation in HRT, as a specific program, impacted graduation rates, it is intended to provide support for the correlation between civically engaged students and persistence to graduation. Through this example of a cross-cultural, service-learning program, the examination of graduation rates of HRT participants provides evidence of the potentially transformative nature of the experience as derived from historical data.

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Building Community Through Engaged Students: CommUniverCity and Experiential, Service-Based Education

By Hilary Nixon and Dayana Salazar

Experiential learning, and more specifically, service learning (SL) can serve as an ideal mechanism to support sustainability education. In particular, because of its emphasis on collaboration between students, faculty, and the community partner(s) and on social change and civic engagement, SL provides an excellent vehicle to address issues related to social justice. In this article, we document a unique SL partnership at San José State University—CommUniverCity. CommUniverCity’s primary mission is to build social capital and empower residents in an underserved community near the university. Each year, students, faculty and residents invest more than 21,000 hours in service to the community. Because of its unique mission, sustainability-related projects lie at the heart of what CommUniverCity does. We analyze student surveys from more than 30 classes engaged in SL projects during 2012 across a wide range of disciplines. All projects address at least one, and often multiple “Es” of sustainability. Our findings indicate that students find value in the SL experience, not only in terms of better understanding of the course subject matter, but also in terms of their understanding of “community” and the larger issue of social justice and equity.

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