Place-Based Learning in the Copeland Creek Watershed

SSU faculty members in the STEM disciplines decided to focus their service-learning projects on the unifying theme of the Copeland Creek Watershed and the Classroom Garden that is adjacent to the Creek. Copeland Creek, which drains into the Laguna de Santa Rosa (which is the largest tributary to the Russian River), is one source of drinking water for Sonoma County residents.

The Copeland Creek Watershed was selected as a unifying theme to present a more accessible curriculum to students. In addition, Copeland Creek is fishless in its upper reaches, which makes its aquatic invertebrate diversity unique.

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"I live in a watershed. I garden in a watershed.
I go for recreation up the hill in a watershed.
I go for recreation down the hill in a watershed.
I look at all these living things with me in a watershed. We have to take care of all of it.... When students leave this campus they take this
consciousness with them to another watershed."
--Frederique Lavoipierre

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Connecting with Local Places

Locally, the Creek provides students with an ecological gradient stretching from the Fairfield Osborn Preserve, through agricultural lands, the SSU campus (and Classroom Garden), the town of Rohnert Park, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the Russian River, and eventually the ocean. Not coincidentally, the Laguna de Santa Rosa is also recognized as a wetland of international importance.

Because students are working on campus (in the Classroom Garden and on stretches of Copeland Creek) and at sites close to campus, they have a unique vantage point from which to converse about and solve problems. Students tasked with assessing the quality of Copeland Creek's water from a chemical, ecological, and microbiological perspective are typically motivated to do their best work.

Figure 1 depicts Entomology Outreach intern Jenny Sloat's vision of the ecological continuum between Copeland Creek and a student's education.

Ecology Map

Figure 1. A Student's View of Copeland Creek

As Ms. Sloat's drawing suggests, students who spend time in the Copeland Creek Watershed and in the Garden typically begin to feel more connected to these places. At the same time, their understanding of ecological connectivity deepens; they experience how what humans do in one place affects the quality of life for inhabitants of another place. They understand how, for example, pesticide use in the Garden affects the quality of water in the nearby Creek.

Students' motivation to learn about topics affecting the Watershed and Garden increases as they become acquainted with these places. As entomology intern Danielle Martinez put it, "Being a part of the Entomology Outreach Program has given me so much throughout my undergraduate career. It pretty much changed the course of what I want to do after college." Ms. Martinez is now applying for agency work as an agricultural/biological technician.

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"Being a part of the Entomology Outreach Program has given me so much throughout my undergraduate career. It pretty much changed the
course of what I want to do after college."
--Danielle Martinez

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Values Intersect within a Watershed

Another benefit to focusing service projects on the Copeland Creek Watershed and on the nearby Classroom Garden is that students, faculty, and community organizations with a stake in these places are naturally drawn to collaborating. Students' knowledge is expanded as they exchange ideas with other students and with community partners across the disciplines.

Engineering Example

The Classroom Garden has become a "hub" for activities and learning; the outdoor classroom is is conveniently located next to water monitoring sites on Copeland Creek. In 2011 the Garden received a new bulletin board that it used to promote collaboration (via event postings, announcements, and instructions). In addition, four new Americans with Disabilities-compliant picnic tables were purchased to make the outdoor classroom more accessible.

Plans are underway for engineering students to design an improved Garden that adheres to Universal Design Principles and that is also fully accessible to those with a wide range of disabling conditions.

The Interplay Between Local and Global

Globally, citizens of all countries recognize that water is critical to our survival, and so managing water to meet human, growth, and ecosystem demands is a top priority.

SSU students working on projects to benefit the Copeland Creek Watershed are also learning about the Russian River Watershed and elements characteristic of watersheds throughout the state. Students are therefore encouraged to make connections between local problems and global problems, particularly with regard to sustainable watersheds.