May 25, 2011

Local students get hands-on ecology experience

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Almost 200 local students learned about the environment and ecosystems courtesy of students and faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Erin Seekamp, assistant professor of forestry in the College of Agricultural Sciences at SIUC, coordinated the effort with graduate and undergraduate students in her Fundamentals of Environmental Education class. The class teaches students to become good purveyors of environmental information, preparing them for jobs as nature interpreters and guides for government and private agencies.

During the last few weeks, students from three Carbondale-area schools have ventured out to SIUC’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center south of the city for an afternoon of adventure, exploration and learning as the University students lead the instruction. Touch of Nature partnered with program organizers to provide the experience for the students at no cost to the participating schools.

Teachers said the hands-on experience helped their students connect with the information presented in their indoor classrooms.

“ Although students live right near all these nature parks they don’t always get the opportunity to get outside to these places,” said Suzanne Asaturian, who teaches several biology courses at Carbondale Community High School. “There are very few trees and such around the high school. So this is a great opportunity for them to get out and practically experience what they’ve learned in the classroom. I’ve seen a lot of growth with them here just now on things we’ve taught, and for the first time they are really hearing it, feeling it, experiencing it and really enjoying themselves, too.”

Seekamp said the goals of the service-learning project include providing SIUC students with practical experience in developing and delivering environmental education programs and giving the Carbondale-area students free environmental education programming. The program supplemented Touch of Nature’s ecology programs with five new ones, including programs on pond, lake, stream, forest and wildlife ecology programs.

Participating schools included Lewis School, Giant City School and Carbondale Community High School. Students in fifth through 10th grade participated.