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Barry and Siena Heights Students Immerse Themselves in Permaculture
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June 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – While many of their peers were focusing on summer jobs and taking a break from classes, 14 students from Barry University and Siena Heights University were immersed in an environmental experience that could help shape stewardship at their respective universities. 

The students were participating in the first-ever environmental stewardship leadership program, sponsored by Barry and Siena Heights and hosted at the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, which founded and sponsors the two universities. The aim of the program was to teach the students about sustainable ecosystems and to encourage them to apply what they learned by taking the lessons to their college campuses in the fall.

The collaborative program involved the students in hands-on work, such as building berms and swales to control water flow, planting mushrooms, and designing and planting guilds – communities of diverse plants that benefit one another. 

The students also heard presentations on permaculture, climatology, and Earth Jurisprudence – the movement to reframe the justice system to protect the rights of nature and human beings. Rounding out the two-week experience were visits to sites that taught the students about ecological sustainability, including the zero-waste campus of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit. 

The environmental stewardship program was a collaborative effort among Barry University, Siena Heights University, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist for Adrian Dominican Sisters, organized the experience, along with Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer. Also participating were faculty advisors Associate Gerry Starratt and Ruth Tallman from Barry University, and Matthew Draud and Heather Moody from Siena Heights University. Among those who gave presentations and administrative support were Sisters Corinne Sanders, OP; Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Carol Coston, OP, Director of the Permaculture Office; and Sharon Weber, OP, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Siena Heights.

During a closing presentation to the Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Motherhouse and in private interviews, the students spoke about what the two-week experience meant to them and how they hope to apply those lessons.

Rahbar Kahn, a Siena Heights student from Bangladesh, said the program was a “great opportunity,” making him more aware of sustainability practices in farming. “I hope to take this experience back to my country and make an impact,” he said, adding that he recommends that other students participate in the program the next time it’s offered. 

“I’ve always been an advocate for saving our planet, so the more I can learn the more I can help save the world,” said Kassandra Guerrero, a criminology major from Barry. “This program has allowed me to learn things I wouldn’t have even imagined were real.”

Liza Avila, a social work major from Barry, said she learned the importance of teamwork and cooperation as well as the need for sustainability. She hopes that what she learned in the program and in her social work studies will help her to make a difference. “Hopefully I’ll be able to work mostly on the policy side,” she said. “I feel that’s one of the big ways I can make an impact."

Gerard Brown, a communications major from Siena Heights, said the experience taught him a great deal about sustainability, zero-waste systems, and the need to protect our watersheds. “I have a better understanding of the environment and the effects we have on the environment,” he said. He hopes in the future to live in a fuel efficient, Earth-smart home and to educate those around him. “We need to care because it’s going to be our future,” he said.

Feature photo (top): Barry University and Siena Heights University students study the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse.

Students pause in their work at the Motherhouse permaculture site during their two-week experience.

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