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Universities as Citizens Institutional Development Grant

Title: "Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP): Institution and Research in Community Context"


CEAP is a collaborative effort of faculty across Calvin’s campus, but mainly in the sciences, whose focus is the understanding of the campus and local ecosystem. The goal is to impact the college and local municipalities as well as individual behavior. In this innovative program, faculty dedicate a regular lab session or project to collecting data that contributes to an overall assessment of the environment of the campus and surrounding area. Classes form working teams related to particular environmental issues. The data forms the basis for recommended changes in campus policies, for programs that target individual behavioral changes, and for identifying issues that involve and impact the adjacent neighborhoods. The program is dramatically increasing natural science faculty and students’ involvement in service-learning. CEAP is developing a model that can be used by other colleges and universities to move faculty to greater engagement with the local community.

A. Overview/Proposed Activities:

In higher education we challenge students to see issues in a framework that goes beyond the limitations of their locally-based experiences – college is meant to be a broadening experience. Thus places like Calvin College are often disconnected from the local community. In Calvin’s case such disconnection has been reinforced by its suburban context and its lack of integration with the local neighborhood. An alternative model, put forth by CEAP, increases connections to adjacent communities and puts forth an educational perspective based on a deepening of local understanding. When we deepen our understanding of the places where we live we gain a greater understanding of who we are, the intricacies of our place, and our responsibilities. Thus the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP) encourages an ethic of service and caretaking by helping students pay attention to that which is closest at hand – the air, wildlife, wetlands, and human communities that surround them. CEAP is a strategy called for in Calvin College’s five year plan to improve the equipping of students to better serve as articulate and resourceful community leaders. CEAP also highlights our interdependence with the local community.

CEAP involves faculty across the college, but mainly in the sciences, who dedicate regular lab sessions or projects to collecting and analyzing data that contribute to an overall assessment of the environment of the campus and surroundings areas. Much of this research requires cooperative work among classes due to the problems’ interdisciplinary nature. The CEAP program models working-group strategies, with classes sharing data or specialties. For example, writing classes, in conjunction with science classes, will produce newsletters that transmit scientific information in a form for general readership. Engineering and political science students will work together to design wetland structures that filter out nutrients from water entering campus ponds as well as engaging in the work of reducing nutrient inflow from storm sewers draining from the adjacent municipalities’ lawns.

CEAP is built on the premise that knowledge arising from the program must then be put to the service of the campus and the larger community. For example, some of the initial findings of chemistry class research point to the possibility that surrounding neighborhoods impact the water quality of campus ponds. The open spaces created by the ponds are in turn used as recreational space by our neighbors. Thus CEAP is increasing our understanding of what it means to be embedded in a natural ecosystem as well as a community, which may become the basis for a more community-based approach to campus planning. Ultimately, the hope of the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program is that students and faculty will become better caretakers and citizens on this piece of the earth and that they may in turn learn what it means to take care of the other places they encounter throughout their lifetimes. Calvin College is situated on a several hundred acre campus at the intersection of three municipalities: Grand Rapids, East Grand Rapids, and Kentwood. With ponds, wooded areas, streets, buildings, residents, and an ecosystem preserve, the campus is an ideal place to serve and show caretaking through the process of paying attention to that which is closest at hand.

The proposed project has arisen out of cooperation between the Natural Science Division of Calvin College and the Service-Learning Center which facilitates on campus Academically-Based Service Learning Office. Its overall goals are: 1) to engage students and faculty, particularly in the sciences, in Service-Learning, 2) to engage students in meaningful learning in a real-life context in terms of application of course material and group work environment, 3) to use the first two goals to provide a context in which students, faculty, and the administrative planning process on campus are meaningfully linked with the surrounding community, 4) to provide data for an overall environmental assessment of Calvin College and its surrounding neighborhoods, and 5) engage students at all levels and across disciplines in quality research.

With the support of the Universities as Citizens Project of Indiana Campus Compact, Calvin College has formed a community Partnerships Team to facilitate greater and more creative levels of partnership between Calvin and local community organizations. CEAP is increasing our sense of being embedded in our local community as well as increasing the awareness and understanding among faculty and students that the college, in reality, does not exist as an island, and that the college is a stakeholder in local community development. Calvin College has a strong history of community involvement and we have focused in the recent years on developing community partnerships and connecting in meaningful ways with the local Grand Rapids community. As an educational institution we have wrestled with how we can best engage in community partnerships which both serve the community and further good teaching and scholarship. The CEAP initiative dovetails with the efforts of the Calvin Community Partnerships Taskforce in some unique ways. It provides opportunities for faculty to connect their research and scholarship with tangible and real needs that exist in our local environment. It will provide a model for community engagement that includes the sciences. Solidifying the development of CEAP would support one outcome of the work of the Community Partnerships Taskforce this past year -- to broaden the discussion on campus about community partnerships. The CPT to date has been comprised mostly of faculty and administrators with a social science background. If CEAP can be expanded and sustained, natural scientists at Calvin would be putting their expertise to use to serve the larger community as well.

Finally, CEAP can aid the further development of the Community Partnerships Taskforce’s model for building cooperative initiative with local groups.

B. Key Issues and Objectives

Objective 1: Engage the sciences in ABSL.

The major innovation of this project is its development of a model of interdisciplinary engagement for science faculty in Academically-Based Service Learning. While ABSL has translated well into the social sciences and the humanities, ABSL organizations nationwide, such as National Campus Compact and Michigan Campus Compact, are presently targeting SEAMS (Science, Engineering, Architecture, Math, and Computer Science) faculty. Part of the difficulty of engaging SEAMS faculty in Service-Learning has been the time constraints that SEAMS course material places on faculty. The subject material is not easily organized around a Service-Learning component. In addition, labs must cover particular techniques and topics. This time constraint is especially evident in introductory level SEAMS courses. The structure of CEAP overcomes both time and subject-matter constraints, allowing service-learning to arise naturally out of course content. CEAP has given faculty and students an opportunity to work on collaborative projects with an inter-disciplinary focus which has created tremendous excitement among the participating faculty. And finally, it provides a basis of getting science faculty involved in community issues, based on their expertise. CEAP does these things within the time and subject matter constraints found within the sciences. At present, eleven science faculty and fifteen science courses are involved in CEAP. With the inclusion of nonscience courses, the number increases to twenty courses and more than two hundred students each semester.

Objective 2: Meaningful Learning.

CEAP provides students with an understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of problems through the need to share information, expertise, and data across disciplines in order to carry out their research. In addition, CEAP participants will be required to attend and present at end-of-the-semester poster sessions in which all data is displayed. A keynote address at the event will pull together the state of the project at that point in time. The initial attempt at such an event is planned for December 1998, after which it will be reviewed, and critiqued with the aim of improving the event in the future.

Objective 3: Links among academics, campus planning and community-wide planning.

Calvin College is situated in an environmental context, sharing its watershed with the surrounding community, as well as being situated in an urban context, subject to zoning regulations of several municipalities. CEAP data provides a starting point for engagement with the surrounding community, providing natural links and service to surrounding municipalities, neighborhoods, and environmental groups. For example, analysis of the water quality of Calvin College ponds leads to engagement with the surrounding neighborhoods over chemical use on lawns, and to links to concerns of a local environmental group that works to ensure the quality of the larger watershed into which Calvin’s ponds drain. Informal links already exist between individual faculty and these groups. The goal of CEAP is to increase the strength of these links and create formal working relationships with these groups. Members of the planning group for CEAP have joined the Community Partnership Team and will bring a CEAP perspective and strategy to this broader campus discussion. Frank Gorman, campus architect, prvoides a linke between CEAP and campus planning. His presence also helps insure that the understanding being developed by CEAP will be integrated into the overall campus planning process.

Objective 4: Students research.

The CEAP project meets the need for increasing student involvement in research at all levels of their college career. Currently, CEAP classes range from the introductory level to senior levels (Appendix A). Approximately two hundred students may be involved in CEAP research in any one semester. The goal is to double that number. . CEAP also supports a goal identified in the five year plan to promote the integration of teaching and scholarship by involving students in research projects.

Objective 5: Rigorous Environmental Assessment.

CEAP will provide a scientifically rigorous environmental assessment of the Calvin College area. It will develop a type of living data-base of environmental parameters. Many campus environmental assessment projects have been attempted but they have, on the whole, been expensive, involved few students, and lacked comprehensiveness, scientific rigor, and continuity. For example, The Campus and the Biosphere Program of Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges involved a full-time staff person, ten students, and focused only on food issues.

C. Implementation Plan

CEAP is in the second of a three-year development stage. The Director of ABSL, the Science Division Faculty Coordinator for Service-Learning, and a Geography and Environmental Studies faculty member organized a three-day workshop during the summer of 1997 to develop the overall structure of the proposed project. The college’s faculty development committee provided the seed money for this workshop, thereby demonstrating the validation of and support from a broad cross-section of colleagues. The initial CEAP group included nine faculty from geography, physics, biology, chemistry, math, and computer science. They developed a working input-output model of the campus environment with subsystems identified as the biological community, the human community, air, water and land (Figure 1). The development of the model aided in identifying different areas that needed data collection and monitoring, and in visualizing the environment in its totality. Participants then re-designed specific lab assignments from existing courses to contribute to the data collection on various aspects of the assessment. Faculty have submitted and received equipment grants in support of the proposed research. These initial labs cover but a fraction of the proposed data collection needs.

The college supported a second workshop during the summer of 1998 to expand the group of participants. Faculty from Engineering, English, Political Science, Geology, Sociology, and the campus architect joined the previous group of participants, bringing the potential courses involved to close to twenty. In this second workshop, the overall direction of the project was further developed, including the evolution of working groups of courses addressing common problems, the emergence of strategies for CEAP to increase its ties and service to the surrounding community, and the integration of CEAP with the college planning process. The strong overall philosophy of CEAP evolved during this second workshop. The project is now seen as being centered around the goal of understanding what it means to be caretakers and citizens within the context of being embedded in a place.

The consensus of the participants was that release time was needed for one faculty member. This person would coordinate the development of the project to ensure 1) the standardization of format for data reporting, 2) the further development of working groups, and 3) the development of a structure for ensuring integration of the project with both campus-wide planning and community groups. Without release time for a project director, the project will remain a collection of individual lab findings, rather than result in a comprehensive summary report with policy implications and recommendations that are linked with local groups.

The requested grant, if funded, would be used to give Dr. Janel Curry-Roper, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, one of the organizers of the project, one course release time the next two semesters. She would coordination and recruit participants. Such coordination will involve the development of several working groups of courses as well as the next workshop (Summer 1999). She would ensure the development and standardization of the CEAP web site so it can be used to its fullest as a depository of results for use by the next semester’s courses. Dr. Curry-Roper would arrange for a conference each semester at which time students from the courses involved with the assessment will formally present findings in poster session format. She would arrange for panel presentations at service-learning conferences. Finally, the release time will allow Dr. Curry-Roper to devote a significant amount of time to arranging discussions among project participants and local organizations. Examples of groups that have been identified include the Reeds Lake conservation group, the neighborhood organizations adjacent to campus, and the retirement complex across from the campus.

D. Evaluation Plan

The CEAP evaluation plan will include the following three elements. First, a description will be kept of each project and course which is involved in CEAP. This information will include course levels, number of students and results of the study. Secondly, Frank Gorman, Calvin college architect, will write an assessment of the impact of CEAP on the planning process, including relationships between the process and the surrounding neighborhoods and municipalities. Third, the Service-Learning Office will keep a list of the groups, organizations, local government agencies, with whom contacts and cooperation are initiated due to the development of the CEAP project. As work with these groups grow, more formal feedback will be requested. In the future, we would also like to carry out a formal study on the cognitive learning outcomes of the CEAP program as well as a study on value changes relating to social engagement and citizenship development. These studies are beyond the time-scope of this grant, however.

E. Sustainability

Calvin College’s administration has shown its strong commitment to CEAP through past and present funding. The Provost and Deans have willingly provided matching funds for Dr. Curry-Roper’s release time. They have committed to funding a third faculty development seminar for the summer of 1999. The administration sees CEAP as key to the overall mission of the college to make service and research key elements of undergraduate education.

After this initial three-year period of CEAP’s development, with its intense organizational and structural-development activities, we expect the time commitments of the director to become better defined. The purpose of this grant proposal is to develop a structure to ensure CEAP’s continuance. This will involve establishing a formal working agreement among the Service Learning Center, the Environmental Studies Program, the Natural Science Division, and the Dean of Instruction. The costs of any additional release time would be worked out among these units of the college, all of which are very supportive of the project. The Academic Administration has expressed strong support for the project both verbally and through providing initial seed money. The goal is to obtain some outside funding for initial startup costs and one-time costs such as the future proposed cognitive evaluation, while working to incorporate long-term costs into regular budgets once those are more clearly known. For example, the costs of the end-of-the semester conferences may be eventually be absorbed by the Natural Science Division, once the program is developed.