Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Environmental Service Learning in an Urban Environment to Address Water Quality Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Using Environmental Service Learning in an Urban Environment to Address Water Quality Issues

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

As the global population continues to increase, consumption patterns and waste streams will directly impact the surrounding environment. How well communities manage natural resources (land, air, water) within urban environments will directly relate to quality of life, health, and the economy for a vast percentage of the world's population.

The Indiana University~Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES) coordinates and facilitates the Environmental Service Learning Program for our campus. The goal of the program is to engage students in urban water quality education and environmental stewardship activities to promote behavioral change and greater environmental awareness. The service learning work days, where students spend an average of four contact hours, are part of community-based research programs predominately conducted at CEES research sites throughout central Indiana.

A partnership with The City of Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation Land Stewardship Office (Indy Parks) is a core component of the service learning program. CEES scientists conduct wetland and floodplain restoration research and hydrological research within many Indy Parks properties, which are the locations for service learning work days. During each work day, students are paired with CEES scientists and Indy Parks natural areas managers to restore park ecosystems. Work day activities involve restoring wetland and floodplain ecosystems and combating nonpoint source pollution through agricultural field tile removal, native plant installation, invasive exotic plant species eradication, and hill slope stabilization, as well as trash and recycling removal. Students are introduced to the site, the activities for the day and the application to course concepts. During lunch breaks, faculty and staff conduct group discussions reinforcing course concepts. After project completion, each student is required to reflect on their service learning experience with a 2-5 page reflective summary paper with references based on work day applications to concepts outlined in their individual courses.

The CEES / Indy Parks partnership provides students with opportunities to apply course material to contemporary environmental problems while contributing to improved water quality. During Spring and Fall of 2004, the Environmental Service Learning Program conducted 18 projects with 550 students that contributed over 2,200 work hours in the community. Excerpts from student reflection papers strongly indicate that participating in service learning has changed their perception of their role in the environment. The long term effects of increasing environmental education and awareness will lead to a more informed citizenry, well equipped to solve future challenges.

INTRODUCTION

With just under half of the world's population (47%) living in cities and projected to increase by 2% per year from 2000-2015, we are now considered an urbanized global society (United Nations, 2001). As the population continues to increase, consumption patterns and waste streams will directly impact the surrounding environment. How well communities manage natural resources (land, air, water) within urban environments will directly relate to quality of life, health, and the economy for a vast percentage of the world's population. The 2000 Gold and Green Report from the Institute of Southern Studies (Kromm and Ernst, 2000) ranked the 50 states of the United States based on 20 "gold" economic and 20 "green" environmental indicators. The study concluded that those states with the highest environmental ranking boasted the best economic performance as well. A scientifically literate society is a critical goal in order to achieve sustainable environmental practices and, as a result, sustainable communities. The academic community is ideally positioned to raise understanding and awareness of the role of science and the environment in everyday lives. …

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