WYOMISSING, Pa. — Throughout the spring 2023 semester, the Penn State Berks campus community has been taking a more sustainable approach by hosting various events and initiatives through the “Celebrating Spring by Springing into Action!” campaign.
Some of the projects that culminated at the end of the semester included holding a sustainable self-care fair on campus, a film screening of “The Story of Plastic,” the creation of a campus garden and students presenting their engagement in environmental outreach projects — all to educate the campus community on the importance of developing environmentally-friendly practices.
Campus Garden and Earth Day Celebration
The Penn State Berks Sustainability Council debuted its campus garden on April 17, outside of Thun Library and William G. Hintz Bookstore. It features five different garden beds containing vegetables, herbs and wildflowers.
Students, faculty and staff gathered to learn about the garden and other sustainable practices they can implement daily. Campus leaders also spoke about how they plan to utilize the garden for student, community and campus engagement, and how it can benefit individuals’ overall health.
Mahsa Kazempour, associate professor of science education, championed the effort to set up the garden through the help of the Hillkirk Family Endowment for Ethics and Sustainability. The purpose of the endowment is “to provide funds to increase awareness and education, and encourage action among students, faculty and staff, and the community, regarding issues related to ethics and sustainability.”
The creation of the garden is one step toward the college’s strategic plan initiative focusing on student and community engagement, engaged scholarship, and sustainability. In addition, the garden, directly and indirectly, supports the goals of improving campus-wide collaboration and enhancing enrollment and retention.
“We thought the garden would be a nice way of having the campus come together as a community and to make this a collaborative process by involving faculty, staff, students and the local community. We want to make it interdisciplinary and focus on building community and student engagement,” Kazempour said.
Environmental Awareness and Community Action Project continues to impact Berks County
Since 2011, Kazempour has taught BiSci 3, the college’s environmental science course, which requires enrolled students to complete community outreach projects focused on sustainability. The Environmental Awareness and Community Action Project (EACAP) allows students to research local, national and global environmental issues, and engage in community-based projects to address sustainability issues in the Berks County area.
For Kazempour, she said she has found it's beneficial to teach the course with a learner-centered, immersive and transformative hands-on approach to enhance students’ environmental literacy, understanding of environmental and sustainability-related issues, and engagement in social activism and environmental stewardship.
“This type of learning approach provides students with relevant and contextualized learning experiences as well as ample opportunities for active engagement in their learning,” stated Kazempour.
The spring 2023 semester projects included shoreline cleanups at Blue Marsh Lake, planting trees at Cacoosing Park, creating and painting garden boxes at Southwest Middle School, and preparing the campus garden, just to name a few.
One member of the team of students — called “Yassify the Environment" — commented, “It was a wonderful way to give back to the local community in a fun and interactive way. Bettering people and the environment go hand-in-hand.”
Another team of students, “The Tree Gang,” focused their service project on planting trees at Cacoosing Park. When reflecting on their experience, one member of the team said, “This experience has shown us how easy it is to devote just a little bit of time to help the environment. The little things go a long way, so in a few years when these trees grow, we are able to see our work flourish and how much it’ll help the community.”
To view all the spring 2023 semester EACAP projects and project updates and reflections, visit the EACAP website.
Looking forward to the 2023-24 school year
Moving forward into the 2023-24 school year, the Penn State Berks Sustainability Council will focus on working collaboratively as a campus community to become more informed and engaged in matters related to sustainability and the environment.
The campus garden along with the other green projects on campus will serve to not only begin to deal with issues of food insecurity on campus by making healthy food accessible to students, but also as a hub for cross-campus and community collaboration focused on teaching, research and service.
“We will continue to work on initiatives focusing on issues related to sustainability and the intersectionality of environmental, social and economic justice and equity,” Kazempour said.
For more information about these projects of joining the Penn State Berks Sustainability Council, contact Mahsa Kazempour at [email protected].