June 5, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Political science, English, social work, and psychology majors – along with students studying biology and environmental sciences – spent the early days of their summer vacation to learn something new: to study the environment and learn sustainable practices in gardening.
The students – eight from Barry University in Miami, Florida, and seven from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan – were participating in the third Environmental Leadership Experience, held May 14-23, 2019, at the Motherhouse Campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Also attending were two faculty members from Barry University: Dr. Anita Zavodska of the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Flona Redway of the Department of Biology. Both universities were founded and are sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Led by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, and Jarod Aslakson, the Congregation’s Permaculture Specialist, the Environmental Leadership Experience focuses on the environment, permaculture, and sustainability. Participants are encouraged to apply what they learned when they return to their universities in the fall.
Participants spent much of their time in the permaculture area of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus. Permaculture is a system of agriculture that seeks to learn from and replicate the natural systems of Earth. Students learned about and worked in various areas of permaculture, from harvesting worm castings for compost to planting rain gardens and pollinator gardens.
In addition, participants studied soil samples in the Siena Heights biology lab, learned about sustainability and ways to reduce their carbon footprint, studied and learned to identify various local plants, and took field trips to sites such as the botanical gardens at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They gave a presentation on their experience to Sisters on campus on May 22, 2019, the day before Barry students returned home to Miami.
The Environmental Leadership Experience was an eye-opener for many of the students. Paige Pokryfke, a sports psychology major at Barry University, said she learned about sustainability, and particularly about composting – and the role that worms play. “They’re such a small creature, but they make such a big difference for us,” she said. She hopes to begin composting at Barry University and to transform some of the university’s unused land into a rain garden or pollinator garden.
Alexia Ferguson, a Siena Heights student majoring in social work and minoring in political science, said she learned about the concept of the carbon footprint – the measure of carbon emissions that one’s lifestyle produces – and about different ways to garden.
“I worked here during the first semester with the Honors Program, so I learned a little bit about everything that goes on [in permaculture],” Alexia said. “This program has really allowed me to get an in-depth knowledge about how [permaculture] really works.”
Jerry Patrick, an Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering student at Siena Heights University, said the Environmental Leadership Experience said he gained a new perspective. “This has gotten me interested in storm water management,” he said, explaining that rain gardens protect water at the source by filtering rain water through plants before it gets to larger bodies of water.
Along with the physical labor involved in the program and the opportunity to learn about the environment, many students said the highlight was the bond that they shared with each other and the opportunity to meet and get to know the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
“The highlights have been talking with the Sisters and learning their life stories and creating bonds with the Barry students,” said Emily Yensch, a psychology major at Siena Heights University.
Ashley Lycke, a biology student from Barry University, said the experience helped the Barry students – who previously didn’t know each other – to create a bond. She also appreciated having lunch with Sisters and developing friendships with all of the participants.
Many of the students finished the program with greater determination to make a difference in the environment – no matter their major. Michidael Ceard, a student at Barry, decided to participate “because I wanted to see what my major could do or what my field could do for sustainability and moving that forward. This trip opened my eyes to different avenues that as an English major I could take part in.” She hopes to use her focus on advocacy to speak out on behalf of the environment.
Holly Kachler, a political science major at Barry University, wants to use her field to make a difference. “My passion is activism, and obviously a huge part of that is the environment.” She hopes to bring back what she learned in the program and work on legislation to combat threats to the environment. “I feel like that’s where we need to go to fix a lot of our problems.”
Sisters on campus listen to a closing presentation by students participating in the 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience.