Service-learning on campus and beyond

Finding ways to grow local fruits and vegetables sustainably. Teaching children about agriculture, culinary science, natural resources and more. Learning to collect data to determine animal population numbers in certain locations. These are just a few examples of the many service-learning opportunities in which Iowa State University students take part at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ three satellite campuses. The activities allow students to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to real-world situations, all while helping others.

ISU EARTH Program, ISU-Uganda Program

The ISU EARTH Program and ISU-Uganda Program are similar in that students travel to these locations to participate in summer or semester-long programs. Faculty members also take students to these destinations for week-long trips during term breaks in the spring and fall semesters.

The ISU EARTH Program was established in 2010 in the U.S. Virgin Islands with the goal of offering Iowa State students service-learning opportunities, all while helping island residents improve their lives through sustainable agriculture practices. More than 75 students have taken part in the program since it began.

While on the island of St. John, Iowa State students assist with community engagement projects to increase their knowledge base and benefit the local area. These projects include establishing school and community gardens to supply fruits and vegetables for feeding programs; helping teachers create educational programs about agriculture, natural resources and environmental topics; and collecting food waste to compost and improve the soil structure.

“For our students to model the impact of agriculture and how it leads to better nutrition and health is inspiring for members of the community that have limited experience with agriculture,” says Shelley Taylor, director of CALS Global Programs.

In Uganda, students and faculty from Iowa State and Makerere University, Kampala, partner to create bi-national, educational, school garden programs in rural Kamuli district.

Since the program began in 2006, 147 Iowa State students have traveled to the country to team up with 168 Ugandan students to take part in service-learning opportunities. Those include developing school gardens that serve as both outdoor learning laboratories and contribute nutrition to lunches served at the schools, working with local youth to develop entrepreneurship projects as enterprises and assisting smallholder farmers with their crop and livestock farming.

“University students need to have a chance to learn about resource systems in other cultures and locations,” says Gail Nonnecke, Morrill Professor and Global Professor in Global Resource Systems. “It’s rewarding to see their personal growth and transformation as they contribute to development projects that can help to solve complex problems of our world.”

Rod and Connie French Conservation Education Camp

The Rod and Connie French Conservation Education Camp, also known as the Montana Camp, was established through a donation by Rod (’10 honorary degree) and Connie French to Iowa State in 2015. Located in the Fish Creek valley approximately 50 miles west of Missoula, Montana, the facility is operated by the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management as a space for students to gain hands-on field education in forestry, fisheries and wildlife.

All courses offered at the camp, in either the summer or fall, involve a service learning component, says Jennifer Schieltz, assistant teaching professor and director of the Montana Camp. These include assisting Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks with animal surveys to determine population numbers and monitoring and treating invasive weeds. The students also assist the United States Forest Service (USFS) with trail maintenance – clearing water bars, re-leveling trails and clearing brush – all while learning about summer job opportunities and careers in the forest service.

A new course offered this summer, Science + Design: Interpretation of Natural Resources in Montana, had students design educational signs to be hung near the USFS campground.

“The students get the experience of working with a real client and producing a product for them (as they likely will in future jobs), while helping the Forest Service improve their visitor experience at the campground,” Schieltz says.

Service learning through landscape design

Students who enroll in Horticulture 481: Advanced Garden Composition take all they have learned thus far in other horticulture classes and combine it into two to three residential landscape design projects, gaining valuable hands-on experience along the way.

Lisa Nunamaker, associate teaching professor in horticulture, says students typically work with two or three Ames community members interested in improving their yards’ landscapes. Students conduct a site analysis of each client’s yard, then put together preliminary and final designs to present.

During the fall 2020 semester, with COVID-19 precautions in place, Nunamaker instead had the class work with Jeff Iles, professor and chair of horticulture, to create a design for the Horticulture Hall courtyard on Iowa State’s campus. Students in the fall 2021 class will do the same.

Nunamaker says through this service-learning project, students learn to use plants in an ecological way and how to see a design process through, from start to finish.

“We want them to walk away with the knowledge of how to work with a client, then incorporate the client’s wishes into the final design, while also being innovative and ecologically sensitive to the site,” she says.

Members of Iowa State’s Landscape Club may take the fall semester’s design one step further and install portions of it in the courtyard. This would be the first time a project from the class has been converted from a drawing on paper to reality.

“When students are able to work with real clients and a real site it gives them a new perspective,” Nunamaker says. “Landscape design has many pieces to manage, from research to planting design to construction details, then the final task of pulling it all together in a neat and orderly way so they can communicate it to the client. Working through a project like this allows them to become familiar with this entire process and starts to build their confidence.”

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Learn more about the CALS satellite campuses on the CALS website.