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Students from Barry University and Siena Heights University who participated in the Environmental Leadership Experience prepare to plant a pocket forest in the Permaculture Garden at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus.

May 23, 2024, Adrian, Michigan – Students from Barry University in Miami, Florida, and Siena Heights University in Adrian extended their education beyond the spring semester by participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE) offered by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Both universities were founded by and are sponsored by the Congregation.

From May 13 to 18, 2024, the students toured the Motherhouse Permaculture site, planted a “pocket forest,” learned about carbon sequestration and measured trees for their sequestration potential, planted trees near the Congregation’s cemetery to help control erosion, analyzed pond water, helped to release fish into the pond, and enjoyed field trips to local areas such as a vernal pool at Heritage Park in Adrian and Hidden Lake Gardens in Brooklyn, Michigan. 

The eight Barry University students, two Siena Heights University students, and their mentors concluded the formal portion of their week on May 17 with a lively and enlightening presentation to the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

The students and their mentors were accompanied by and learned from Brad Frank, Director of the Office of Sustainability; Mike Walters, Permaculture Specialist; Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor and former Director of the Office of Sustainability. Mentors attending were Celeste Landeros, PhD, Professor of English and Humanities, and Betsy Thomas, Assistant Vice-President of Enrollment Services, from Barry University, and Jeffrey Lake, Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Siena Heights University. 

In preparation for the week, Mike had 700 trees in cold storage, ready to be planted at the cemetery and in Permaculture as a pocket forest. “A pocket forest is an intensely planted woodland area,” in which numerous trees are planted typically in an 800- to 1,200-square-foot area, about three per square meter, Mike explained. “You plant everything really close and they race for the sun. Maintain it for three years and it’s self-sustaining.” He said pocket forests “shortcut the process” of growing a forest; pocket forests mature in only 15 to 20 years.

“The planting of the pocket forest is for 100 years in the future,” Brad explained. “It’s for the next generations.”

This year’s ELE participants also had the unique experience of introducing fish into the pond located on the Motherhouse land. The fish were scheduled to arrive at the pond during the ELE so that students could learn about how the fish provide benefits to the local ecosystem. “The fish are complementing the entire habitat,” Brad said, explaining that they “increase the biodiversity within the pond. This is habitat restoration.” 

The ELE is “set up to be an outside experience, getting your hands dirty,” Brad said in an interview prior to ELE. But he also hoped to go beyond the physical experience. “I’m going to be more cognizant this year to interweave throughout the week the practice of sustainable lifestyles … and encourage sustainable living,” Brad said. “That will be an undercurrent for me, in addition to mentioning the most vulnerable groups of people who are impacted by climate change.”

The intended lessons were not lost on the students. Caleb, a freshman studying computer science and music at Barry University and a member of Barry’s environmental Green Team, said he was interested in coming to Michigan to participate in the ELE. “Regardless of our profession, it’s very important to learn about environmental sustainability because we all live on the same Earth,” he said. “We’re going to be living on it and we want to make sure it’s a safe and clean environment.”

Breauna, a senior at Barry University studying business management, said she’s been practicing sustainability on her own. “We all play our part and we all have to do more to end climate change,” she said. 

The students also appreciated the opportunity to visit Michigan and to get to know some of the Adrian Dominican Sisters on campus. Faiyaz, a freshman chemistry major, was impressed by the “warm welcome I received” from the Sisters. “I also love the most how everyone in this community cares so much about nature, and I share that same passion.”

Read more about ELE from the students who wrote a blog and created a video of their experience.

Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are, from left, Douglas Small ’82, Outstanding Alumni Award; Sister Beth Butler, OP, Honorary Alumni Award; and Tammy R. McCrory ’12, Recent Graduate Award. Not pictured is Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award.

October 20, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Beth Butler, OP, was named an Honorary Alum of Siena Heights University in recognition of her positive influence on criminal justice students 40 years ago. She received the award during the October 13, 2023, Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at Rueckert Auditorium. The awards program was part of Siena Heights University’s Homecoming weekend, October 13-15, 2023.

Alumni, students and staff of Siena Heights University, and friends and family of the honorees were welcomed by Andy Switzer ’13, President of the Alumni Board, and by Douglas Palmer, PhD, President of Siena Heights University. 

“Today, we’re here about honoring those who have come before – welcoming our wonderful alumni who have represented Siena Heights University and are doing so well,” Dr. Palmer said. “We are thankful to have people like you who continue to demonstrate the values of a Siena Heights education. What you offer to the world is invaluable.” 

In introducing Sister Beth, Sister Sharon Weber, OP, PhD, noted that Sister Beth was chosen as an Honorary Alum because she is “an inspirational model who made a difference for Siena Heights by demonstrating exceptional commitment to it and support for the mission and the spirit of the university.” 

Sister Beth began her years of study at Siena Heights but graduated from Barry University and earned a master’s degree in criminal justice at Michigan State University. In her master’s work, she traveled to Europe to compare the criminal justice systems in the United States with those in other countries.

Sister Sharon said Sister Beth was “instrumental in the formative years of the Criminal Justice programs at both Siena Heights and Barry universities,” both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She was a criminal justice professor at Siena Heights in the 1980s, serving as a mentor to her students.  

Through the years, Sister Beth also ministered in the criminal justice system, teaching prison inmates in Michigan and California and serving as a probation officer, chaplain of the Miami Police Department, and supervisor for public safety and security at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California.

Sister Beth Butler, OP, displays the Honorary Alumni Award with Douglas Palmer, PhD, President of Siena Heights University.
Photo by Laura Harvey, courtesy of Siena Heights University

But Sister Beth was especially honored for her influence on her criminal justice students, who nominated her for the award. “As they looked back 40 years, they remembered that her honest questions about how they were doing in and out of the classroom played an integral part in their growth,” Sister Sharon said. “She always showed up for them and still does, offering friendship and support in many circumstances.” At the same time, Sister Beth had high expectations, requiring “hard work and perseverance on their part.”

Sister Sharon noted the continuing effect of Sister Beth’s influence over the years as her students carried forward the same qualities of care and dedication in their own work – “work that has influenced the criminal justice system where they have served at all levels…. Her influence has been widespread.”

Upon accepting the award, Sister Beth said it was an honor.

“What you have done is outstanding,” Sister Beth told her students. “You have not only worked in every field in the criminal justice system … you have been in all institutions: federal, state, county. You have become managers, directors, supervisors, chiefs. 

“Your success is because you have been standing on the shoulders of many professors, Dominican Sisters, family, and friends who have influenced you in the past,” Sister Beth said. “I’m very proud of your accomplishments, and our alumni family shares this pride with me.”

The Honorary Alumni Award recognizes non-graduates of Siena Heights who “demonstrate exceptional commitment to and support for the mission and spirit of the University.” They are also “inspirational role models who have made a significant difference for Siena Heights by sharing themselves through generous and sustained gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure.”

Also recognized during the Distinguished Alumni Awards were:

  • Douglas “Doug” Small ’82, received the Outstanding Alumni Award for his work as President and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids, which attracts tourism and conventions to the city. He worked with others to create a hospitality and tourism academy to assist disadvantaged high school students. The Outstanding Alumni Award is presented to those “whose outstanding professional achievements and/or volunteer contributions promote Siena positively to the community” and who demonstrate strong leadership.
  • Tammy R. McCrorry ’12, recipient of the Recent Graduate Award, is a public health project leader who opened the McCrory Center to support families and children with psychological conditions. The Recent Graduate Award recognizes alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years whose “professional achievement, community involvement, and/or civic commitment demonstrate dedication to Christian values and the spirit of Siena Heights University.”
  • Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award, was noted for successfully taking on complex cases and tasks for the Dearborn, Michigan, Law Department. He serves several roles for the City of Dearborn, handling the challenges with “skill, diplomacy, and dignity, resulting in positive outcomes.” Named in memory of faculty member Sister Ann Joachim, OP, the award recognizes “significant contributions to the University or the community through activities that demonstrate strong leadership … and the capacity to confront issues head-on while maintaining the image and spirit of the University.”

Feature image caption: Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are, from left, Douglas Small ’82, Outstanding Alumni Award; Sister Beth Butler, OP, Honorary Alumni Award; and Tammy R. McCrory ’12, Recent Graduate Award. Not pictured is Jeremy J. Romer ’08, recipient of the Sister Ann Joachim Award.
Photo by Laura Harvey, courtesy of Siena Heights University



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