READING, Pa. — The Penn State Berks campus offers the perfect setting for connecting with nature, as well as a unique opportunity for students and faculty to explore environmental issues.
For the past five years, students in the BI SC 003 Environmental Science course at Penn State Berks have worked collaboratively in teams to complete an Environmental Awareness and Community Action Project (EACAP). Led by Mahsa Kazempour, associate professor of science education, students research an environmental issue of their choice (local, national or global) and work with a community organization to support actions focused on addressing environmental issues locally by protecting the environment or educating the public.
This past spring semester, there were a total of 106 students working in 31 teams with several local organizations including Glenside Elementary School, Kittatany Sierra Club and the Nolde Environmental Education Center, and the organizations involved in the Schuylkill River Trail Project. Some of the teams worked with John Rost, research technician for horticulture and turfgrass, in the Berks Greenhouse, and several others worked with the Berks Sustainability Team to complete a number of projects on campus.
“When I was first started teaching BI SC 003 in the spring of 2011, I knew that the course would need to be restructured to include a number of components that enhance students’ understanding of environmental issues and their willingness to take an active role in their local and global community,” said Kazempour. “The goal of the EACAP project is to empower students and encourage them to become socially responsible citizens and stewards of the environment through engaged community-based service learning — an experience that grants them a unique and enhanced awareness of their environment and their role in protecting the environment.”
Two years later, in 2013, Kazempour worked with the campus' Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research to designate sections of BI SC 003, which include the EACAP project, as a service learning course.
Kazempour adds that over the years, more than 150 teams have completed service-learning projects including removal of invasive species and planting native species; the creation of rain gardens; designing rain barrels; developing signage, brochures and education materials for local elementary schools and environmental centers; cleaning up rivers and trails; helping with the redevelopment of a local school garden; creating educational videos about important issues such as food waste; and building and maintaining owl and blue bird nests.
“Students have presented their work during our campus’ Earth Day event and use the EACAP website to chronicle their work,” said Kazempour. “I wanted to create this page to showcase the accomplishments of our students, and the amount of hard work, dedication and joy that goes into this project.”
One of the students, reflecting on her own EACAP project and those of other teams, said, "The EACAP project introduced us to ways we can help the future generations and help sustain our biological systems. Everyone researched and presented ways we could personally help sustain a healthy and long living environment. The service aspect of the project allowed teams to get to manage or conduct an activity related to helping the community, which related to stewardship. Working in teams to produce an end result showed the passion everyone had for their individual project and environmental issues. EACAP helped teach social responsibility by getting students involved in activities that would protect the environment and spread awareness of issues."
In spring 2015, Kazempour received a Teaching & Learning Innovation Grant and worked with Mary Ann Mengel, instructional multimedia designer, to develop the website that will be used to chronicle students’ project experiences and products each semester. Kazempour adds that the funding made available through a Faculty Project Fund grant and the Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment for Community Service has been instrumental in covering student expenses related to the EACAP project.
“I am deeply thankful to the more than 10 partner organizations who have graciously agreed to work with my students over the years and teach them so much while getting them to be more active and engaged in their communities,” Kazempour said.
For more information on the student projects, visit http://sites.psu.edu/environmentalcommunityproject/.