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Campus wetland proposal provides students with a concrete project

By Andrew De Young

Seminar on Creation Stewardship is the required capstone course for all students in the environmental studies major at Dordt College. Taught by Dr. Robb De Haan, the seminar emphasizes sustainable, just living and tries to help students move from understanding and commitment to stewardly living. Members of the class spend the semester doing hands-on research and analysis of a campus or community stewardship issue and then make recommendations that they believe could lead to concrete action.

This year’s class presented the results of their project, titled “Restoration of a Wet Prairie Ecosystem on the Kuhl Century Farm” at Ideafest, an annual campus celebration of student academic work. The culmination of their semester’s work was a design proposal that could be implemented by the college.

The proposal, according to De Haan, concerns college property on the far south end of the campus, the former Kuhl farm. De Haan’s students designed a plan to use some of that land to restore a wetland ecosystem.

Jennie Van Velzen, Todd Rowenhorst, Emily Van't Hul, Christo Haarhof,  and Nate Sneider visited other wetlands as they worked on their project.

Jennie Van Velzen, Todd Rowenhorst, Emily Van't Hul, Christo Haarhof, and Nate Sneider visited other wetlands as they worked on their project.

“The wetland restoration was part of the plan before we became involved,” says De Haan. “My students weren’t the ones who came up with the idea—they simply looked at ways the college could make it happen.”

In order to do this, the students had to study, among other things, water flow and drainage on the property. They also considered what plant species they wanted to introduce to the restored ecosystem. These species include many prairie plants that are all but gone in a county drastically altered by modern agriculture.

“I found the work very enjoyable,” says Nate Sneider, one of the students presenting the proposal at Ideafest. “This, I think, has the potential for being implemented in the near future, and since I’ll be around for another three semesters, I hope to see the fruits of my labor.”

Sneider adds that he feels that the restoration project will be beneficial for “all communities involved,” both the Dordt and the larger Sioux County community.

De Haan echoes those sentiments, saying that the project has been and, hopefully, will be beneficial on a number of levels. His students were given a valuable chance to do what most Dordt professors call “service-learning”—a project that was both educational and of value to others. And De Haan says that the actual restoration, if implemented, will be of tangible value to Dordt College.

“The wetland could provide educational opportunities for Dordt students for many years down the road,” he says. “Future classes can spend time seeing how the ecosystem has developed—seeing how many species are thriving there or even introducing new species.”

He adds that the educational opportunities extend beyond environmental studies majors. If proper signage and labeling were added, he believes that students in a general biology course or even students from one of the local schools could learn a great deal from the ecosystem.

More broadly, De Haan encourages these kinds of restoration projects because they are so close to his heart. Living in Sioux County, he says, is often difficult for a teacher of environmental studies.

“This area has been quite altered by agriculture, and there are ecosystems that disappear as a result,” he says. “As Christians, we are called to take care of the plants and animals that are part of God’s creation. Hopefully we can give some of them a place to thrive.”

You might call it “environmental evangelism,” the teaching of Christian stewardship by example. De Haan hopes that the wetland restoration will provide inspiration for local businesses or other colleges that might want to do the same thing.

Both he and his students have high hopes, but as Sneider says, “Even if this is not fully implemented, I believe that much of our work was beneficial to open up ideas and discussions for the community.”

Sharing ideas and wrestling with issues of Christian stewardship together—that was the point of both the course and Ideafest. De Haan and his students see their presentation as a valuable first step.



Environmental studies students see value of policy making

Denise Swager met with her congresswoman from the state of Washington while in Washington D.C.

Denise Swager met with her congresswoman from the state of Washington while in Washington D.C.

Professor Fred Van Geest’s Environmental Policy class continued an annual tradition by going to Washington D.C. The purpose of the yearly trip, according to Van Geest, is to “immerse the students in the real world of environmental policy making, from a Christian perspective.”

The trip’s activities were planned in part by Peter Illyn, the head of a Christian environmental organization called Restoring Eden. The students listened to various presentations about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, received training on how to lobby, and made appointments with representatives in the House and Senate to voice their concerns about environmental issues.

“The effect of lobbying is hard to measure,” says Van Geest. Still, he finds the trip to be a valuable one. “For students, there was value in exercising their citizenship responsibilities, and in expressing a Christian perspective on an environmental policy issue.”