Community Engaged Learning suits Geology department

Nora Hertel

Lawrence’s administration is taking strides to consciously incorporate community service and leadership into curriculums. This movement, referred to as Community Engaged Learning, requires students and professors alike to step out of the classroom and find local applications for their research.
In the process of these applications, students learn to cooperate with a wide range of community members and practice real-life problem-solving skills. This combination of education and “servant-leadership” garners support within and beyond the Lawrence community.
With support from the S & R Pieper Family Foundation, President Jill Beck appointed Professor of Mathematics Alan Parks to encourage, support and assess Community Engaged Learning at Lawrence. While this professorship was only recently endowed, some past projects by Lawrence students are also considered servant-leadership.
Assistant geology professor Andrew Knudsen is currently contributing to and advising a number of academic pursuits intended to benefit the local community.
Knudson describes this classroom-community tie as natural to his work in environmental science. He says that as a geologist he can “work on environmental projects that focus on local communities.”
This view of academics aligns with the goals of Community Engaged Learning. Within the geology department, Community Engaged Learning is about finding real-world situations that would benefit from more research and applying research to other real-world situations.
Knudsen is working with several students on projects that will eventually contribute knowledge and suggestions to the nearby community.
While getting credit through independent studies and seminars, students gather background information on relevant local systems. The final goal is to improve the relationship between the people and the environment in that specific space.
In one such project, Knudsen and his students monitor levels of phosphorus and iron in Lake Winnebago. This research will contribute to a better understanding of how that ecosystem affects and is affected by the surrounding community.
Research on this particular project will culminate with publication of the material and suggestion of feasible improvements. Because Lake Winnebago is such a large system wrapped up in various research and statewide organizations, students may struggle to break into that forum.
Making a marked contribution to the wellbeing of a local environment and its surrounding community generates purpose and creates an outlet for research.
Some of Knudsen’s other projects are presently influencing their communities. Along with a series of undergraduate students, he works regularly on remedying heavy metal contamination in the Milwaukee River.
This research contributes directly to the work of a local nonprofit organization in Milwaukee that involves urban youth in the renewal of that waterway. Knudsen’s and his students’ research positively supports and directs the efforts of the Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center to clean up the river.
Lawrence’s geology department has made, and continues to make, a marked impact on our campus community.
The planning and implementation of the sustainable garden, the plan to recycle materials from the deconstruction of Hulbert House, and this year, the creation of a river walk near the new campus center, were all derived from an annual environmental studies seminar.
Students directed these projects and made them feasible by working with the appropriate actors on campus.
The class that planned the garden worked directly with Dining Services throughout the planning process to ensure that the research and plan could actually survive and contribute positively to the campus.
The seminar taught students to not only research practical topics, but to consider and involve the community in these projects.
Due to present trends in the discipline, independent studies and seminars in the geology department easily correspond with the goals of Community Engaged Learning. Knudsen notes that geology has become more community and environmentally conscious in the last 10 years.
This focus on local application is not restricted to sciences, and professors in various departments are finding creative ways to involve community outreach in their research projects and academic pursuits.
Lawrence is now able to offer a framework of support for these projects and a forum for multiple departments to discuss the common goal of unifying service-leadership and academics.
Knudsen finds the whole experience rewarding because “it’s nice to think that something will benefit from this research, rather than just having something in some obscure journal.”
Students can be pushed beyond the classroom to apply their knowledge and contribute to their community. By making Community Engaged Learning a priority at Lawrence, students in all disciplines can look forward to interactive studies and meaningful community involvement.