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Center for Environment Provides Value-added Education

May 27, 2005

Category: Academics, Environmental Science

By Dr. John Wear, Director of the Catawba Center for the Environment

A recent Associated Press story reminded me of how important the Catawba College Center for the Environment is to the education of our students. A young man in a northwestern state reacted shrilly to development’s encroachment on the habitat of an endangered species. The result was not the preservation of the habitat but a backlash of anger against his tactics.

This young man – like graduates from so many colleges and universities -- had the scientific knowledge necessary to analyze the situation and signal danger, but he obviously had not had a background in working with community members to bring about a satisfactory solution.

How different that is from the education that our students receive. We recognize that environmental science and studies is a complex field. It involves science, to be sure, but it also involves public policy and ethics. We know that successful outcomes can turn on an ability to work with community leaders and garner grassroots support.

That’s why we provide so many real-world opportunities for our students through the Center. That’s what sets us apart from the myriad environmental science programs throughout the county. We offer a value-added education that teaches students the complexities of effecting positive change that will create a sustainable future and enhance the quality of life for our citizens.

Consider the opportunities our students have as a result of their involvement in the community. The next phase of our Clean Air Initiative promises to offer students who plan to be educators internship opportunities to teach younger students and their parents about the causes of air pollution and ways of mitigating it.

Our students continue to work as interns at the LandTrust for Central North Carolina where they benefit from the Center’s long-term partnership with that organization. They get firsthand experience in our joint project to conserve the Two Rivers Preserve and the South Yadkin Refuge.   They also work with Horizons Unlimited on the N.C. WILD education site at Duke Power’s Buck Steam Station near Salisbury. The goal of that program is to provide wildlife habitat and to involve students and the community in learning about and protecting the environment.

The Center, which began in 1995 and was officially founded in 1997, actually grew out of community projects like these. The beauty of this approach is that both our students and the community benefit.

We will focus much of our energy this year on environmental awareness on campus – reaching out to faculty, staff and students who are not in the Environmental Science Program. Thanks to a generous benefactor, we now have professional development stipends for faculty who wish to learn how to integrate environmental education into their classes.

In addition, we will create round-table discussions for faculty, staff and students on subjects like campus greening and environmental awareness. Our environmental science and studies students will continue to work with the administration to facilitate campus greening projects, and they will take an active roll in educating students in other disciplines about the importance of being good environmental stewards.

Because of the generosity of donors to the Catawba Center for the Environment, we are able to offer this value-added education to our Catawba students. The benefit to them, to our community and to the communities they will inhabit after graduation cannot be measured.

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