Faculty fellow creates community-engaged environmental courses
Students are more likely to remember the experiences they have had over the facts they have memorized in class. With this in mind, Sara Velardi, a lecturer in the Environmental Studies Program, developed two memorable classes — ENVI 382E: Ecology of the Northeast and ENVI 382B: Sweet Harvests: Bees and Maples, while participating in the Center for Civic Engagement’s Community-engaged Teaching Fellows Program.
She was inspired to create these courses after participating in many community-engaged projects throughout her own education, while earning her bachelor’s degree at Skidmore College and her master’s degree and PhD at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
“I remember my senior project from college, where I was going out and interviewing teachers and understanding how they incorporate their environment in their classrooms,” she said. “That experience really stuck with me. I hope that my classes stick with my students years from now too.”
In Velardi’s Northern Ecology class, which she taught in the fall 2020 semester, her students worked with the Binghamton City Parks Department to help it maintain its tree database. Students practiced identifying different trees and monitoring the overall health of the trees along city streets and in local parks.
Due to COVID-19, Velardi could not continue with this class in the spring 2021 semester so focused her community engagement efforts on her SUST 581B: Qualitative Methods class, which introduced students to several types of qualitative research methods used to explore social issues related to food insecurity, pollution and natural resource management.
Velardi first taught this course this past fall and developed a partnership with the Binghamton Food Rescue. She met with the coordinator and discussed how she and her students could best assist the organization.
After identifying its needs, Velardi got to work teaching her students with a “knowledge with action approach.” She believes this approach is beneficial in giving her students a way to apply the knowledge that they are learning.
Students learned about different types of food policy as well as about food safety, health and nutrition. Then Velardi tasked them with developing healthy, fresh-food recipes and educational activities about food for children of families attending Binghamton Food Rescue distributions.
The recipes and educational activities simultaneously helped inform the community about healthy food options and taught children about healthy food choices.
Seth Price, who graduated this spring with a double major in environmental science with a concentration in ecosystems and geography with a concentration in environmental resource management, said the class was the most enjoyable and informative one he took in his college career.
“As a senior, something that I feel was lacking in my undergraduate experience was the opportunity to get out into the community and gain a full understanding of how our curriculum is applicable to the real world,” he said.
“The recipe card project that we completed in class really shed some light on how we can take the lessons we learn in the classroom and use them to create real-world experiences by interacting with a side of Binghamton that, as students, we don’t get to see every day,” Price said.
Velardi is proud of the work her students did and how much they helped Binghamton Food Rescue, despite the pandemic.
She hopes that more volunteer opportunities and service projects can evolve through her course over time. She envisions developing future partnerships with organizations such as the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW), Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments (VINES) and the Binghamton University Food Pantry.
Velardi said her hope for the future of this course is to tackle a new, exciting project each semester, allowing her relationships with community partners to evolve while providing them with helpful material and meaningful data.
“A lot of times you’re on campus and your campus is your community and you sort of forget about what’s outside it,” Velardi said. “I think, as an instructor, I have a responsibility to provide a way for students to go outside of campus and be involved in the community. On the other side of that, I think it’s important that the community benefits from having a university in its area with all of these students.”