Public scholarship student projects for introductory environmental courses

A project for undergraduates to engage environmental issues as educated citizens of a democracy.

Seth D. Baum, Destiny D. Aman, Andrei L. Israel, 2012. Public scholarship student projects for introductory environmental courses. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 36, no. 3 (August), pages 403-419.

Pre-print: Click here to view a full pre-print of the article (pdf).

This paper presents a model project for introductory undergraduate courses that develops students as citizens contributing scholarship to public discussions of environmental issues. In this field-based project, students actively and independently engage with an environmental issue and present their project experience to a relevant public forum. In two implementations of the project, we find that the project succeeds at each of five goals: exposing students to public scholarship, connecting course material to environmental issues and students' lives, giving students experience with professional environmental work, building student enthusiasm and, finally, providing the public with insights from students' scholarship.

Non-technical summary: pdf version

Background: Education For Environmental Public Scholarship
Public scholarship is scholarship that is used to inform public debate of the issues we face as a society. Likewise, education for public scholarship connects classroom concepts to societal is-sues and helps students act as educated citizens within a democracy. This is especially important for environmental issues given the urgent and complex nature of these issues. For more, see the Pennsylvania State University Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy,

A New Course Project
This paper presents a new public scholarship project for students in introductory undergraduate courses on environmental topics. The project connects classroom content to real-world environ-mental issues, giving students the chance to think and act as public scholars. The project extends the strong tradition of fieldwork in geography education by getting the student out of the class-room and into the community and natural environment. The project lasts the entire semester, giv-ing students the chance for in-depth experience. We implemented the project in two courses at Penn State during summer 2009.

Overall Project Goals
Our project was designed to meet five core goals: (1) Expose students to the ways in which they can act as public scholar. (2) Connect course material to environmental issues and to students' everyday lives. (3) Give students experience with professional environmental work, so that they can gain an appreciation of such work and decide if they want this work in their careers. (4) Build student enthusiasm for environmental issues. (5) Finally, provide the public with insights from students' scholarship. When we implemented the project in our courses, we found that it succeeded in meeting all of these goals.

Hands-On Environmental Activity
For the project, each student designs and performs a hands-on activity that allows her to intelli-gently engage with an environmental issue of her choice. For example, one student chose to walk instead of drive in order to address the issue of climate change. Another student chose to inter-view local park conservation personnel to learn about the issue of deer overpopulation. The ac-tivity gives students a chance to experience firsthand some aspect of the issue. The student must also connect the activity to course content and her chosen environmental issue.

Public Forum Presentation
At the end of the semester, each student submits key insights from her project experience to the public forum of her choice. The presentation is thus an act of public scholarship. In our imple-mentation of the project, students submitted letters to the editor of newspapers, uploaded videos to YouTube, and created informational posters for display at city hall. To produce the content, students must reflect on what aspects of their experience are most relevant to the public and then decide how to convey this in a way that the public finds clear and compelling.

Created 25 Nov 2011 * Updated 29 Jul 2013