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Environmental Leadership Experience Offers Students the Opportunity to Learn and Serve
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.

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