Environmental Conversations pilot program to launch this fall
A select group of incoming first-year students at St. Olaf College will get the opportunity to live, breathe, eat, study, and learn all things “green” as part of a new Environmental Conversations pilot program.
The Environmental Conversations program will join the Great Conversation, American Conversations, Asian Conversations, and the Science Conversation programs in uniting students of all backgrounds, interests, majors, and concentrations in a common dialogue. These programs are grounded in innovative, discussion-based learning with a distinct focus in an area of interest.
Rather than drawing up an entire new set of courses, students involved in the Environmental Conversations program will be taking previously approved first-year writing and religion courses and the long-established Introduction to Environmental Studies
Students will be divided into two cohorts, with one group beginning with Land, Food, and Justice in Biblical Traditions (Religion 121) and the other beginning with Doing Democracy: The Politics of Food (Writing 111). The two cohorts will join the same class during Interim for Introduction to Environmental Studies.
During the spring semester, the cohorts will switch religion and writing classes, taking either Nature’s Mysteries: Insights, Impacts, and Inspiration in the Backyard (Writing) or Gardens and Wilderness: The Bible and the Idea of Nature (Religion).
Learning to live, breathe, be green
Matt Rohn, the acting coordinator of the Environmental Conversations pilot and an associate professor of art/art history, believes this program will provide guidance for students who are already interested in sustainability and the environment. It will enable them to learn more about St. Olaf’s various environmentally conscious organizations like the student-run organic farm, STOGROW, and get involved much earlier.
“In the past, we have certainly had students very interested in these issues, but they tend to find out what’s available and what’s going on during their sophomore year — which means they can’t start until almost their junior year. Part of the objective here is to introduce students who are interested in these things their first year,” says Rohn.
This new Conversations program is also important because it will help connect students with the environment and a sense of place, says Emily Stets ‘15, who is working on programming as part of a Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) project.
“A lot of what we’ve studied talks about this sense of place and the idea that you’re more likely to protect and advocate for the place that you care about. St. Olaf is not only our community, but Northfield is as well. If we can vote here, we should be involved in other things here and be involved in other things that affect people that are here.”
The Environmental Conversations program plans to include civic engagement and traveling components that would engage students in learning to live sustainably and helping others do the same.
A gathering of green enthusiasts
In addition, all Environmental Conversations participants will live in Kittelsby Hall.
Since Hilleboe Hall, the dorm attached to Kittelsby, is launching its Green Dorm program this fall as part of the SustainAbilities initiative, the Hill-Kit residence will engage in environmentally conscious events. The SustainAbilities program is a student-run organization that invites students to engage in and practice living sustainably.
In addition, the Green House (Flaten House), located just down the Hill, will manage the programming for “going green” this year for both dorms. This creates what CURI student Will Lutterman ‘15 says is a large cohort of environmentally minded students living in the same area.
Zoey Slater ‘14, another CURI student and McNair Scholar, believes this is a good start to living sustainably in residence halls.
“We’re hoping to introduce a lot of SustainAbilities programming through Kittelsby and the Green Dorm. Anything that works there, we’ll also try to expand to the other residence halls too so it’s not just like a little green area. Everybody can participate,” she says.
What’s important about the environmental movement, program organizers say, is for students to integrate these choices into their daily lives rather than add them to a long list of commitments.
“We’re trying to shift the focus from not necessarily doing but being and living — both while you’re here and when you leave St. Olaf,” says Stets.
The Environmental Conversations pilot program will have a mentor-mentee aspect that Lutterman hopes will turn this informal program into something more formal.
“We’re going to have a picnic at the beginning of the year, bring the students together, pair them off one-on-one, and hopefully, these mentees can graduate and become mentors themselves,” he says.