Annual Consortium revitalizes student sustainability

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courtesy of Walter Garschagen

The Villard Room is going green this week­end. The annual consortium of colleges and universities will be gathering at Vassar to discuss how to get students more involved with the world around them. Specifically, this conference is titled: “Celebrating the Living Classroom: Research, Education, and Collab­oration in the Hudson-Mohawk Watersheds.”

Anthropology Professor Lucy Johnson ex­plained, “We seek to influence the behavior and cultural change within our institutions to improve the health of the regional and global environment and humanity’s long-term surviv­al, to educate ourselves, our institutional com­munities, and the public about the ecosystem in which our institutions reside, and to support environmental, interdisciplinary collaborative research and teaching in the regional higher education community.”

While students and professors from colleges and universities from all around are expected to attend the conference in the Villard Room, it only comes to the mid-Hudson Valley region every three years.

As the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Environmental Consortium, Johnson has been involved with the conference every year. With the conference at Vassar this year, she is also leading the Planning Committee. John­son said, “The mission of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities is to harness higher education’s intellectual and physical resources to advance regional, ecosys­tem-based environmental research, teaching and learning.”

For the first time, the consortium will in­clude a Student Congress on Saturday morn­ing. Johnson explained, “Students can partic­ipate in a unique and groundbreaking forum to share ideas, inspiration, aspirations, and ac­tion. It is open to all higher education students, all majors invited, to meaningfully engage in the Environmental Consortium’s mission.”

The Environmental Consortium was estab­lished in 2004, and was first hosted by Pace University. This year’s marks the 12th environ­mental consortium. Johnson said, “In alternate years we focus on an environmental topic that colleges and college students in the region are concerned with, or on issues of pedagogy, how and what we teach about the environment and sustainability.”

The conference covers a large region of colleges and universities. Johnson added, “We expect to have students, faculty and adminis­trators from all over the state join us and share ideas on how best to teach and learn about en­vironmental issues.”

Specifically, Johnson explained, they will be trying to get students more involved. She said, “We will be exploring how to get students in­volved in projects that will enhance their ed­ucation and their understanding of complex environmental issues. For faculty, we hope to inspire them with new and creative ways to teach their materials.”

The Environmental Consortium consists of much more than just presentations and discus­sions. On Friday afternoon, there will be field trips and workshops led by distinguished Vas­sar professors. “Exploring downtown Pough­keepsie with Harvey Flad, Professor Emeritus of Geography at Vassar; walking the Walkway over the Hudson with Fred Schaeffer, who led the effort to create the Walkway; exploring the Edith Roberts garden at Vassar and its resto­ration with Professor Margaret Ronsheim, and an introduction to the Vassar Conservation and Environmental Engagement Cooperative with its Manager, Jen Rubbo,” Johnson listed.

There will also be multiple workshops cov­ering a wide range of topics, such as Leverag­ing GIS in the Classroom with Kytt MacManus from the Earth Institute at Columbia Universi­ty; incorporating Data Analysis with Excel into the Classroom with Larry O’Connell from the New School and Fordham University; mapping the Hidden Campus Landscape with Vassar Assistant Professor of Anthropology April Bei­saw; and Where Animation and Citizen Science Collide with Ann LePore, Associate Professor of Fine Art at the School of Contemporary Arts at Ramapo College.”

A dinner on Friday night will also include a presentation of the Environmental Consor­tium’s Great Work Award. This year’s awardee is Professor and Interim Associate Provost and Dean for Research, Laboratory for Marine & Estuarine Research from Lehman College Dr. Joseph W. Rachlin. On Saturday, Senior Scholar and Director of the Curriculum for the Biore­gion at Evergreen State College, Jean MacGre­gor will give a keynote address on “Educating for an Ethic of Place: Insights from Curriculum for the Bioregion’s First Decade.”

The conference will cover topics to engage professors and students from the departments of Environmental Studies, Geography, Biology and Anthropology. Johnson said, “The confer­ence sessions will provide examples and in­spiration about how to teach actively and en­gagingly about environmental issues and how to collaborate with students and community members to enhance education and improve the environment.” For students who are inter­ested in or majoring in these subjects, John­son added, “The Student Congress will set the agenda for the spring Student Summit in order to make it most germane to the interests and concerns of student members of the consor­tium.”

Learning at the Environmental Consortium isn’t limited to just students and professors of these subjects. Johnson explained, “The collab­orative, research-based teaching that the con­ference will be exploring should be of interest to any professor who wishes to explore new ways of approaching academic materials to more fully engage their students and enhance their education.”

Assistant Professor of Anthropology April Beisaw will be hosting a workshop at the con­sortium about mapping the Hidden Campus Landscape. It is her first Consortium, and she will be demonstrating how to use the GPS technology that she uses in her courses and re­search. Beisaw explained the importance of the conference, “People get so comfortable with their usual places and routines that they often miss what else is around them. There are many ways of perceiving the environment in which we live. Looking closely is important to seeing and understanding how a landscape has devel­oped and planning its future.”

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