95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OOS 42-2 - Academic service learning: Engaging undergraduate students in ecology education and civic responsibility

Thursday, August 5, 2010: 8:20 AM
315-316, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Denise Mitten, Adventure Education, Sustainability Education, Prescott College, Prescott, AZ and Scott M. Herron, Biology, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI

Academic Service Learning (ASL) engages students in meaningful projects with community partners. In this example, FSU professors both volunteer at the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) and use it as a place to engage students in projects. MRWA has been an ideal partner for a number of Ferris State University (FSU) classes in the areas of ecology, natural history, and environmental education. FSU students typically are first generation college students from Michigan.

Many students in these classes are in teacher education, recreation leadership and management, and other applied fields. While some FSU students might become ecologists, our students are more likely to be the teachers and environmental educators that inspire their students to choose ecology once in college.

Using a model of synergism, several professors have teamed with the MRWA in a variety of projects. In these projects, undergraduate students complete course objectives through relevant educational experiences while helping to foster civic responsibility.  Through teaching course content in this manner students gain a deeper appreciation for the local natural environment.  In gaining this sense of place students feel a stronger commitment to long term engagement in environmental restoration and sustainability.

Aspects of this model that make it effective are:

1)    Choosing to work with a local agency

2)    Choosing an agency focused on educational and scientific initiatives

3)    Professors leading by example and bringing students into an agency in which the professors are already engaged

4)    Both the agency and the students benefit and grow because of the relationship


Many FSU students plan to stay in Michigan and have strong family ties here. We want both the current students and those they teach in the future to prioritize the natural environment in Michigan.

The ASL model provides a venue for transferring ecological knowledge to application. Ecology, biology and natural resource management professors have been able to lead the campus in helping students understand a number of environmental issues facing the Muskegon River Watershed.

Professors have been on the education committee, the board and engaged in research for MRWA. Student projects have included Houghton Lake sediment and wild rice research, rain garden construction, Mitchell Creek shoreline stabilization plantings, teacher workshops, and storm water runoff education. Through this collaboration students learn that we are all stakeholders in the watershed, and through their engagement become stewards of the land.