by Julie Lineback

University of West Georgia English instructor Ashley Dycus has always been interested in community service. When she discovered the community garden on campus, a hidden gem tucked away behind the UWG Observatory and Arbor View Apartments that grows food for local families while educating young people, she found a way to tie that interest into her coursework.

Ashley DycusTeaching English 1101 and 1102 to STEM to STEAM students—those who respond more to a science-minded approach to the humanities—she chose to build her classes around sustainability. Catering to science, math and engineering students, she worked to find texts in which they may be more interested.

“The first time I taught the sustainability text, the students didn’t understand,” Dycus revealed. “Being in the garden really helps the students contextualize what they are reading in class and gives them hands-on experiences.”

The tangible connection is a benefit. Dycus has seen grades increase at least 9 percent over semesters in which outside work wasn’t a component.

“When we read articles and short stories about sustainability, we weren’t getting a full grasp on how plants are helping us,” said Ashley Abercrombie, a sophomore computer science major. “Being able to actually do it put everything in perspective.”

On the first visit to the garden, the students do a lot of prep work and cleaning up. On the second visit, they start planning and harvesting. Grounds Superintendent James Hembree helps facilitate and presents a topic to the students, so they are planting seeds in their minds as well as the earth.

“He explained that the initiative of the garden is to make food for the community,” Abercrombie said. “Since we aren’t using as much fossil fuels, we don’t have as much waste.”

“We try to find places to outsource it, because we don’t want any of it to go to waste,” Dycus said. “Last spring, we harvested kale and invited the pre-K students to partake. We also have partnerships with the soup kitchen and emergency shelters.”

To wrap up the semester, Dycus requires the students to create climate fiction, all of which have to use facts to back up claims. She’s had YouTube videos, board games and children’s books created and submitted.

Abercrombie, along with classmates Nolan Williams and Tyler Anderson, took experiences gathered in the garden and submitted a video describing the small ways students can contribute, such as cutting down on shower time, using hand dryers instead of paper towels and eating local, organic food.

UWG English STEM to STEAM students working in the community garden on campus.“Subway is actually going organic and using locally grown, healthy items,” said Abercrombie, who added it was interesting to see the process from a garden to a big company. “We started going there more because they are saving more plants and animals and emitting less fossil fuels.”

The trio of classmates agreed it’s hard to make big changes on one’s own, but incorporating the little pieces can have an effect.

“Our whole video was based on the simple things people can do to change,” Williams added. “It builds up when everybody does it and creates a bigger change.”

“I’m protective of the environment,” said Anderson, who revealed in the video the average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year. “I don’t just throw trash out—I recycle it. I try to reinforce that belief that we need to have a good planet. If we trash the planet, we can’t do that.”

Dycus is reaching out to other students like Anderson, Abercrombie and Williams by expanding her sustainability education outside the classroom. As faculty advisor for the Eco Leaders, she is trying to create a system in the community garden where different classes control plots in order to learn ownership and responsibility for upkeep and harvests.

“I think that if we have enough student power, and enough interest, then we can really make something of the garden,” she concluded. “If we get students more involved, it will become a priority for the campus.”

Posted on November 30, 2017