The Importance of Portfolios and Partnerships in Experiential Education

By Rachel Bartron and Nicole Lewis

Abby Price '21 on a Round Square trip to Peru

Climate change is an urgent matter that will demand a focused and committed approach. In designing Wyoming Seminary’s Climate Science and Sustainability Concentration (CSSC), we emphasized the cultivation of student portfolios and participation in discussion groups as primary ways to engage students in a style of conscientious and sustained academic and experiential learning that leads to personal investment in the generation of climate change solutions. Though her interest came about prior to the existence of the CSSC, Abby Price ‘21, credits her participation and eventual leadership in Sem’s Environmental Club and her Round Square experience in Lima, Peru as major forces in her decision to pursue environmental studies in college. 

Like Abby, we expect that our students’ participation in this concentration program will prepare them for opportunities they will encounter at the college level.

Our reasoning is in line with an initiative the state of New Jersey is planning for its schools and several initiatives at institutions of higher learning where climate science and sustainability have become important components of the curriculum and site operations (Burney, 2020). A brief survey of college websites supports the notion that education and practice go hand-in-hand. Of the schools examined, including Harvard, Cornell, Penn, Howard, Penn State, and Wilkes, each has devised an approach that is interdisciplinary in its academic pursuit and holistic in its approach. Most include a campus-wide focus on moving away from irresponsible energy consumption and towards more sustainable and, in many cases, carbon-neutral campus practices. Each school melds strong academic programs that unite coursework in climate science, renewable energy, and environmental engineering with human behavior, environmental law, economics, and policy and government. To evaluate progress toward their goals for increased sustainability in on-site practices, colleges track their growth and progress with shared documents and reports which CSSC students will mimic with the creation and completion of a portfolio.  

Abby Price '21 on a Round Square trip to Peru

In his book "Education and Experience," John Dewey argues that “The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” Central to meaningful experiences is the thought process, the careful collating of experiences, and the deliberate planning of next steps that allow for greatest growth. Imagine the student who discovers the importance of protecting outdoor habitats through volunteer work at the Lehman Sanctuary in Dallas, PA. She might then want to be part of our Environmental Club and lead a campus initiative to devote more outdoor areas to green space where students can connect with nature and see the growth of herbs, vegetables, and trees. This work might lead her back to the Kingston Shade Tree Commission where she will directly impact the local community and witness the impact of tree planting in urban areas. This CSSC student will organize and present her work three times a year to a  panel of students and adults. An integral part of the meetings will be focused on the next steps which may include a new internship, community service opportunity, or carefully planned project or paper for an academic class. This combination of experiences and reflection can be an important part of change and hope for the future.

At the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Greta Thunberg closes with, "There is hope - I've seen it - but it does not come from the governments or corporations, it comes from the people. The people who have been unaware are now starting to wake up, and once we become aware we change. We can change and people are ready for change." Like Greta, our students are eager for the opportunity to make others see the dangers of climate change and the possibility that a united effort can transform our current treatment of the planet. 

Exposing students to both the academic coursework and the applicable experiential education in climate science and sustainability will help shape and direct their future work. Connecting students to resources and role models is one of the foundations of the Sem community and essential as they chart a path forward. We are excited about the way the CSSC program will do all of the above and recognize that the program would be stronger with a wider support structure. If this work is close to your heart and/or you are involved in an applicable business or organization and want to support this program in some way, please fill out this form and we will reach out to you or contact Nicole Lewis (nlewis@wyomingseminary.org) or Rachel Bartron (rbartron@wyomingseminary.org) directly. 

References

Burney, M. (2020, July 2). In New Jersey schools, climate change education will be mandatory. The Philadelphia Inquirer. https://www.inquirer.com/education/climate-change-new-jersey-mandatory-curriculum-tammy-murphy-20200702.html

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education (Touchstone ed.). Kappa Delta Pi.

Miller, R., & Morgaine, W. (2009). The benefits of e-portfolios for students and faculty in their own words. Peer Review, 11(1). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/benefits-e-portfolios-students-and-faculty-their-own-words

Thunberg, G. (2019, December 11). UN climate change conference [Speech transcript]. Rev.com. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/greta-thunberg-un-climate-change-conference-speech-transcript