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Siena Heights and Barry University Students Learn, Apply Sustainable Practices

June 5, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Political science, English, social work, and psychology majors – along with students studying biology and environmental sciences – spent the early days of their summer vacation to learn something new: to study the environment and learn sustainable practices in gardening.

The students – eight from Barry University in Miami, Florida, and seven from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan – were participating in the third Environmental Leadership Experience, held May 14-23, 2019, at the Motherhouse Campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Also attending were two faculty members from Barry University: Dr. Anita Zavodska of the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Flona Redway of the Department of Biology. Both universities were founded and are sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

Jared Aslakson, right, Permaculture Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, gives a presentation at the Gaia Garden in the permaculture area of the Motherhouse.

Led by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, and Jarod Aslakson, the Congregation’s Permaculture Specialist, the Environmental Leadership Experience focuses on the environment, permaculture, and sustainability. Participants are encouraged to apply what they learned when they return to their universities in the fall. 

Participants spent much of their time in the permaculture area of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus. Permaculture is a system of agriculture that seeks to learn from and replicate the natural systems of Earth. Students learned about and worked in various areas of permaculture, from harvesting worm castings for compost to planting rain gardens and pollinator gardens. 

In addition, participants studied soil samples in the Siena Heights biology lab, learned about sustainability and ways to reduce their carbon footprint, studied and learned to identify various local plants, and took field trips to sites such as the botanical gardens at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They gave a presentation on their experience to Sisters on campus on May 22, 2019, the day before Barry students returned home to Miami.

The Environmental Leadership Experience was an eye-opener for many of the students. Paige Pokryfke, a sports psychology major at Barry University, said she learned about sustainability, and particularly about composting – and the role that worms play. “They’re such a small creature, but they make such a big difference for us,” she said. She hopes to begin composting at Barry University and to transform some of the university’s unused land into a rain garden or pollinator garden. 

Environmental Leadership Experience participants visit the greenhouse at the University of Michigan’s Botanical Gardens.

Alexia Ferguson, a Siena Heights student majoring in social work and minoring in political science, said she learned about the concept of the carbon footprint – the measure of carbon emissions that one’s lifestyle produces – and about different ways to garden. 

“I worked here during the first semester with the Honors Program, so I learned a little bit about everything that goes on [in permaculture],” Alexia said. “This program has really allowed me to get an in-depth knowledge about how [permaculture] really works.”

Jerry Patrick, an Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering student at Siena Heights University, said the Environmental Leadership Experience said he gained a new perspective. “This has gotten me interested in storm water management,” he said, explaining that rain gardens protect water at the source by filtering rain water through plants before it gets to larger bodies of water.

Along with the physical labor involved in the program and the opportunity to learn about the environment, many students said the highlight was the bond that they shared with each other and the opportunity to meet and get to know the Adrian Dominican Sisters. 

“The highlights have been talking with the Sisters and learning their life stories and creating bonds with the Barry students,” said Emily Yensch, a psychology major at Siena Heights University. 

Students work on installing a new rain garden near the Dominican Life Center parking lot.

Ashley Lycke, a biology student from Barry University, said the experience helped the Barry students – who previously didn’t know each other – to create a bond. She also appreciated having lunch with Sisters and developing friendships with all of the participants.

Many of the students finished the program with greater determination to make a difference in the environment – no matter their major. Michidael Ceard, a student at Barry, decided to participate “because I wanted to see what my major could do or what my field could do for sustainability and moving that forward. This trip opened my eyes to different avenues that as an English major I could take part in.” She hopes to use her focus on advocacy to speak out on behalf of the environment. 

Holly Kachler, a political science major at Barry University, wants to use her field to make a difference. “My passion is activism, and obviously a huge part of that is the environment.” She hopes to bring back what she learned in the program and work on legislation to combat threats to the environment. “I feel like that’s where we need to go to fix a lot of our problems.”

Sisters on campus listen to a closing presentation by students participating in the 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience.

Ashley LaVigne, Social Media Specialist, Receives Athena Young Professional Leadership Award

May 17, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Ashley LaVigne, Social Media Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Communications, received the 2019 Athena Young Professional Leadership Award in recognition of her involvement as person under 40 who has developed her leadership potential and mentored other women as well.

The award ceremony took place May 9, 2019, in Dominican Hall of Siena Heights University. Ashley was honored in front of her peers from the Offices of Communications and Development, members of the General Council, other Adrian Dominican Sisters, and community members she has come to know through her extensive involvement.

Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters and a long-time colleague and friend of Ashley, presented the award, noting Ashley’s involvement in the Lenawee County community since 2012. Ashley began as the Campaign and Volunteer Engagement Manager at Lenawee United Way, involved in fundraising, event planning, volunteer management, and marketing. She then served at Hospice of Lenawee as Donor Relations Manager. Ashley has worked with the Adrian Dominican Sisters as Social Media Specialist since 2015.

“When Ashley does something, she does it 100 percent,” said Amy, who also worked with Ashley at Lenawee United Way. She noted the many ways that Ashley has been involved in the community, not only as a professional working at non-profit organizations, but in her spare time. 

Ashley became involved in the Kiwanis Club of Adrian, recently serving as president of the club. “While successfully juggling work, civic responsibilities, and home life, Ashley also showed them without a doubt that a young, female leader could do an outstanding job as president of the [Kiwanis] Club,” Amy said, quoting Ashley’s friend Rachael Carpenter.

In addition, Ashley became involved in the Adrian Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lenawee United Way Young Leaders Society and the Pillars Club, and enrolled in the Emerging Leaders program for professionals ages 22 to 35. The eight-month program offered monthly, day-long meetings that focused on leadership development in the morning and community development in the afternoon. After graduating from the program, Ashley served as facilitator for two years.

Ashley LaVigne, left, Amy Palmer, right

Amy concluded her introduction to Ashley by drawing on a quote from the great Dominican mystic and reformer, St. Catherine of Siena: “‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ May Ashley be an inspiration for all of us as we, too, be who God meant us to be. Ashley is certainly setting the world on fire and for that, we can all be grateful.”   

In an interview, Ashley said a highlight of the award ceremony was “being surrounded by my family and friends and the community members who have influenced my life. What I hold dear to my heart are the people I’ve met throughout the past seven years, who I would have never met had I not been hired at United Way.” 

Ashley said her key volunteer experience has been involvement with the Kiwanis Club, including the past four years on the leadership team. “One of my greatest challenges was when I served as President,” she said. “Being an introvert, it’s difficult to stand up at a podium in front of 60 people every week.” Another challenge was being “organized enough to lead the meetings and manage the expectations of 100 members. It was a tremendous learning experience, though.” Now Past-President, Ashley also serves Kiwanis as the public relations manager, on the Membership Committee, on the Club Board, and previously on the Community Impact Committee.

In the coming years, Ashley hopes to “continue serving Lenawee County in whatever capacity I’m able to, maintain the relationships that I’ve built, and continue to work hard for the organizations I love.”

Her advice to a young professional beginning a career in a new community? “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions. Find a mentor and join an organization that allows you to give back to the community. Be your authentic self.”

Also honored by Athena Lenawee were Londa Pickles, President of Gurdjian Insurance Group, Inc., in Adrian, recipient of the Athena Leadership Award; and County National Bank, recipient of the Athena Parthenon Leadership Award, for its commitment to developing the leadership and skills of women.

Athena Lenawee is a local chapter of Athena International. Inspired by the strength, courage, and wisdom of the Greek goddess, Athena International exists to “support, develop, and honor women leaders.”



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