First-year students are being given the opportunity to “get their hands dirty and learn about ecology and conservation at the same time,” thanks to a $5,990 grant from the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation.
The grant, issued to Associate Prof. Mathew Dornbush of the Natural and Applied Sciences academic unit at UW-Green Bay, will support Dornbush’s first-year seminar course titled, “Let’s Go Native: Conservation Biology in Practice.”
The project is part of a larger Urban Conservation Capacity grant to the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“The idea is that we’ll use the grant to get the course designed and get it up and running, and then once that’s done hopefully we can find some other means of supporting it through time,” said Dornbush.
The grant is being used to pay for transportation and supplies for the students, as well as to free Dornbush’s time to teach and coordinate the new seminar. Students will be traveling to Baird Creek several times throughout fall semester 2014 to take part in conservation activities that will mirror what they are learning in the classroom.
The Baird Creek Preservation Foundation was formed by a group of concerned citizens in 1997 in order to protect the Baird Creek Greenway.
“A piece of land was going to be developed that the citizens had used even though they didn’t own it for years,” Dornbush said, “They said, ‘We can’t let this happen. We need to protect it for the public good.’”
Since then, the foundation has won several awards honoring those efforts, and members have continued their mission to “enhance the greenway’s value as an ecological, educational, and recreational resource for Northeastern Wisconsin,” according to their website.
While working at the greenway, students will be assisting in several different projects.
“On site they will be doing a biodiversity inventory of part of the greenway, as well as learning about invasive species and native plants,” said Maureen Meinhardt, executive director of the foundation. “The Baird Creek Preservation Foundation has received thousands of donated native plants, and the students will also be helping us plant them in the greenway, as well as gather seeds from existing plants to spread next season, and removing invasive species.”
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According to Meinhardt, the larger grant issued to the foundation will be used to fund their C.O.R.E. program, which stands for Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, and Education. Through this program the grant will be funding various events and programs at the greenway, including an Earth Day clean-up, a 5K Run and Walk, and various hikes and educational programs for children. The grant also funded two internships last summer and has allowed the foundation to test an iPhone app that would provide visitors to the greenway with interesting facts using their GPS coordinates.
The grant will be covering 75 percent of the costs of the program and the foundation will provide the rest through fundraising.
Dornbush hopes that this experience will push incoming students to go out of their comfort zone and try something new. Developing a connection between the community and the classroom is something Dornbush has found beneficial in other classes he’s taught.
“I’ve seen it with the Costa Rica course we run,” he said. “We take students to Costa Rica and we work with a National Park and communities. It’s very powerful. I think we can do the same thing here. We don’t necessarily need to go all the way to Costa Rica to get that same experience.”
Engagement was a goal for the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation, as well. According to Dornbush, the foundation has many active members who are retired, but wants to get younger people involved in the efforts.
“In supporting the first-year seminar course led by Dr. Dornbush, our goal is to engage UWGB students in the Green Bay community through learning about the ‘jewel’ we have in the 500 acres of natural woodland in the city of Green Bay — the Baird Creek Greenway,” said Meinhardt.
Dornbush has a similar goal. While he hopes that students will leave with knowledge of conservation biology, he also wants students to see the connections they can form with their community.
“I want our students to see that citizens can make a difference through their actions,” he said. “If I preach it to them they’re not going to internalize it. But experiencing it, they do.”
— Story by Katelyn Staaben ’15, student communication intern and photos by Lauren Hlavka ’15, student photography intern, Office of Marketing and University Communication