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Home > News > Service-Learning Grant to Harrisburg University to Promote Great Lakes Stewardship

Service-Learning Grant to Harrisburg University to Promote Great Lakes Stewardship

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(Harrisburg, PA)--A multi-year grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service awarded to the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology aims to improve stewardship of the Great Lakes ecosystem and science education.

The $460,474 grant from the Learn and Serve America Higher Education program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, will fund Year 1 of a three-year Great Lakes Innovative Stewardship through Education Network (GLISTEN) project that will harness the expertise and innovation of college faculty and undergraduate students in eight states and two Canadian provinces.

Through the project, GLISTEN seeks to improve undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning and instruction focused on the Great Lakes, encourage interest in “green jobs” by engaging students in community-based research and action targeted at restoring and sustaining a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem.

“Our goals include enhancing public understanding of that region and empowering citizens to positively impact that ecosystem through public and personal stewardship behaviors as well as organizing a corps of undergraduate interns to promote Great Lakes stewardship,” says Wm. David Burns, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement (NCSCE) and professor of general studies at the Harrisburg University.  A signature program of the NCSCE is Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), a comprehensive faculty development and science education reform project.

By focusing undergraduate curriculum development efforts, academic courses, research, fieldwork, and other resources on a single but multi-faceted civic issue, GLISTEN will build the capacity of STEM faculty and departments to improve learning in the STEM disciplines and engage students in direct action (i.e., service-learning) and community-based research to benefit resource-strapped governmental and community-based organizations.

“The relevance of this project is unmistakable.  It engages students’ interest in the sciences by connecting learning to real environmental challenges facing the nation,” says Dr. Mel Schiavelli, President of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.   “This type of experiential learning model is at the heart of our academic programs and it has been shown to be effective in improving science literacy.”

During its first 3-year funding cycle, GLISTEN aims to enroll up to 3,500 undergraduate students in coursework incorporating Great Lakes stewardship activities.  These activities – including water quality monitoring, restoring wetlands, and assessing and addressing aquatic and terrestrial non-native species invasions – will benefit at least 20 community-based organizations in 8 states undergoing challenges to their operational capacity due to the recent economic downturn.  At least 100 undergraduate stewardship liaisons will assist faculty and community-based agencies with the coordination of these activities and form a corps of future leaders in efforts to restore and protect the Great Lakes. 

“The program also position students to take advantage of ‘green’ professional opportunities upon graduation, provide students with the 21st century skills such as critical thinking, capacity for collaboration, as well as associated civic engagement skills, and help students as well as members of the involved communities to become enlightened stakeholders who practice active stewardship behaviors in their private and civic lives,” says Glenn Odenbrett, GLISTEN project director.

Working in partnership with community-based Resource Conservation and Development Councils, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Freshwater Future, and Great Lakes United, GLISTEN will make sub-awards to lead institutional partners designed to support collaborative clusters in eight Great Lakes states.

Each cluster will embrace at least one 4-year and one 2-year undergraduate institution where Great-Lakes-stewardship-focused courses will be developed and offered. GLISTEN collaborative clusters will include representation from community-based organizations was well as local and state governments working together to enhance water quality, habitat preservation, and native species survival. Each cluster will also include representatives from at least one informal science education venue, such as a science museum, nature center or state or national park.  Through these venues and others, the outcomes of cluster projects will be shared with the general public to empower citizens to engage more effectively in scientifically-informed stewardship behaviors.

While each cluster will focus on a particular Great Lakes stewardship challenge, all will share goals in undergraduate student leadership development and career preparation, curriculum development and dissemination, and the creation of a community of practice.

Colleges in each cluster will recruit and employ undergraduate stewardship liaisons, who will serve as the logistical “glue” linking participating faculty and community-based organizations who will benefit from GLISTEN-sponsored service-learning and research activities.

“These students will provide critical project leadership, ensuring that the cluster maintains an optimal balance among curricular goals, community needs, and student interests. Student leaders will also receive specialized training to prepare them to excel in the “green jobs” of the future,” says Burns.

Additionally, in each cluster, faculty will collaborate across institutions to integrate on-the-ground stewardship activities to improve learning in their undergraduate STEM coursework.

The project has the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the Great Lakes, which contain approximately one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh water currently available for human use.   

“In the past, the Lakes have been considered invincible, too big to suffer permanent damage due to human activity,” says Odenbrett.    

The result in the past century, he adds, was a seriously degraded ecosystem plagued by pollution from highly-toxic industrial contaminants or nutrients in waste and storm water, loss of natural habitat, and successive invasions of non-native fish, animal, and plant species.  Consequences for humans dependent on the ecosystem’s nearshore fresh water and navigable waterways for personal, recreational, and economic use have included illness, closed beaches, and collapse of native fish populations.

Odenbrett also notes that as many jobs are likely to result from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative about to be funded by Congress, GLISTEN presents an opportunity for the region’s higher education institutions to collaborate with off campus stakeholders in preparing today’s undergraduates for their roles in this immense undertaking.

The NCSCE develops, implements, and evaluates activities and projects that encourage and strengthen the efforts of colleges and universities to reform undergraduate education, especially in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The signature program of the center is Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), a project funded by the National Science Foundation. SENCER promotes greater engagement of undergraduates with the sciences in institutions of higher education in the US and selected other countries.

Established in 2001 to address Central Pennsylvania’s need for increased opportunities for study leading to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Harrisburg University is an innovative and ambitious private institution that produces graduates who provide increased competence and capacity in science and technology disciplines to Pennsylvania and the nation. Harrisburg University ensures institutional access for underrepresented students and links learning and research to practical outcomes. As a private University serving the public good, Harrisburg University remains the only STEM-focused comprehensive university located between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

For more information on the University's demand-driven undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in applied science and technology fields, call 717.901.5146 or email Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.