The educational plan takes an integrative multi-discipline approach to provide students with direct hands-on opportunities for learning. It plan has four main focuses.
- Assessing MSU's Ecological Footprint
- Founding an Ecological Communications Theater showcasing student and faculty environmental science and media projects
- Research and develop the concept of the mental resource component of environmental inputs
- Provide a plant and animal Habitat Collection for departmental program use.
These four focuses engage the hard sciences, measuring and quantifying; liberal arts, theater and communications; and the professional fields, investigating psychology, health and community well-being
MSU's ecological footprint is its resource usage, waste management, recycling outcomes and impacts on the environment. To assess these, students will have to interact with administrators, plant supervisors and building managers to compile the data. The data must then be processed to a comprehensible presentation for display at the greenhouse. Specific information displayed could include the amount of water usage, coal burning, electricity consumed, food purchased, and waste produced. Programs such as "Eco-Footprint Fridays" could be a format to present the information in reasonable installments.
The real world experience of interacting with officials and managers, and obtaining real numbers, would be invaluable to future environmental engineers, city planners and any student in the sciences needing to understand the scope of human activities and impacts on our planet. The time commitment and rigors of accomplishing this project on an annual basis suggests that it would be important to recruit a faculty member(s) to offer an independent study for credit.
To greater utilize the compiled data, we plan to tap into or create and establish a nation wide inter-university network for eco-issues. This network of student groups at other universities will be encouraged to develop their own assessments for comparison. The benchmark provided will put our campus' waste and conservation habits into context.
The Ecological Communications Theater provides a venue for student and faculty environmental research projects to present their recently published results to an interested audience here at MSU. Journalism, theater and communication arts majors will be able to present their own media creations.
The concept of interspecies cooperation for survival will be a primary theme. The focus for media productions on animals is appropriate because studies have shown that Americans' emotional response to animals determines their willingness to preserve habits and ecosystems. (Kellert 1996) Another aspect research has uncovered is that peoples' affect toward animals can be grouped in three broad categories; Humanist/Moralistic, Negative/Utilitarian, and Scientific/Ecological, listed in order of predominance in our society. (Kellert 1983) Our objective is to link the humanitarian and scientific communities' paradigms, creating scientifically based, eco-aware, life-respecting attitudes toward animals and plants.
Program examples that have already been suggested are Rainforest Week and presentations based on recent media articles. Examples of interspecies collaboration are appearing more frequently in popular magazines (Nicolet & Ross 2001, Chadwick & Satore 2001).
The research focus for the greenhouse is its most innovative educational aspect. Past debates over the planet's human carrying capacity never included discussions of how the natural world restores human mental resources. Only the recent advances in the field of Environmental Psychology have confirmed the significance of nature's contribution to mental health. People use natural environments for relieving stress, mental restoration after fatigue, reflection and contemplation of their own place in life.
Grant funded research conducted at the University of Massachusetts' Durfee Conservatory showed, overwhelmingly (97%), student participants experienced a sharp decrease in stress after spending an hour exploring the greenhouses in a guided tour using their fives senses and their intellect. Their phase two grant will test the physiological state of the participants, in collaboration with the nursing school. This research is similar to the Ulrich et al. report highlighted on the Mental Health and Well-Being page.
In line with the research focus will be a heightening of awareness of the value nature offers as an almost nutrient- like ingredient to our well-being. This aspect figures in the educational plan as a self-taught learning experience. Visitors will directly experience the restorative environment provided, and as they are drawn to spend time there, either by activities or by quiet spaces and the study area, will begin to recognize a feeling of affinity for a living environment. The theme of the value of other life and a healthy environment will be connected to quality of life and standard of living. This emphasis is intended to connect the positive feelings being experienced with a realization of the significance of the natural world and our place within it. Programs planned for the Biodome are the Sense Hike and the Fruit Walk.
The Habitat Collection inside the Biodome is a stable environment of permanently planted tropical plants. Included is an aquatic ecosystem and possibly ants, lizards, and birds. Naturally, forestry, fisheries and wildlife, horticulture, plant biology, entomology and other programs dealing with plants, animals or insects have an opportunity for their students to directly experience topics that would have otherwise been only on the written page. Information about the plants found within the greenhouse will be presented, providing the university with a public conservatory and permanent botanical collection. Local volunteers and work-study students could also share in learning opportunities while caring for the garden.
The plan to create a community networking center with the capacity for performance art, quantitative science and active research is unique and reflects the interests of the students involved and the strengths of this university's faculty. This confluence of diverse interests sets the stage for a synergy of cross discipline viewpoints interacting to enhance a holistic understanding of environmental concerns.