Muddy Waters, Clean Future
For many students, making the switch from college to a career inches closer every day. Western environmental students, armed with concrete career experience, are working toward a job they’re passionate about.
Western launched the Sustainable Cities Partnership program in fall 2016, giving students an opportunity to test their ability to solve sustainability issues in the city of Edmonds.
Program Coordinator David Davidson said the program offers students the opportunity to make a difference in the world.
“Isn’t Western full of students who are wanting to make a difference out in the world? That is part of what we are doing here. We are trying to give students the opportunity to go make a difference as a part of their curriculum.”
“It’s a lot of brainpower and it’s creative people,” Davidson said. “These students will pursue solutions that no city staff member would dare to pursue.”
Senior Lauren Ode took part in the Sustainable Cities Partnership program as a part of her environmental science major.
“Nature always needs an advocate,” Ode said. “It needs someone who isn’t afraid to go out and do the hard work and get their hands dirty. For me it’s a personal mission and a personal calling to be involved.”
Ode and senior Skylar King, along with around 25 other students, became involved in the program through Western’s Huxley College of the Environment.
“I think it is a phenomenal opportunity to see what the practical applications are to the things we are working with,” Ode said. “It is one thing to understand a particular concept or to be good at writing papers, but what does that mean when you start interacting with real human problems and limitations?”
Both Ode and King were involved in one of many projects focused on the ecological restoration of the Edmonds Marsh. The area provides essential support to populations of salmon, bird and plant life, but the marsh has been diminished by human development. Ode and King’s group worked on monitoring invasive plant species and recommended the best way for the city to clear them from the area.
The group studied possible long-term monitoring techniques like using drones to photograph the area and its growth over time. They worked with members of EarthCorps, an environmental nonprofit located in Seattle, and Edmonds officials to restore and protect a delicate natural environment.
Multiple student-led groups tackled issues varying from stormwater management to the construction of a walkway. The overall goal of the program was to preserve what was left of the marsh as well as deal with problems threatening the area.
“Anyone coming out of a Huxley program, or any program for that matter, will be saying, ‘I don’t know if I have enough practical experience in this,’” King said. “But being put in this real scenario, it was cool to see how everyone stepped up. I think everyone gave more and got more out of the experience.”
Driven by the desire to solve the problems at hand, Ode and King have a passion for the natural environment. For King, it is a love that has been growing in him for years.
“My dad was in the Park Service growing up, so I think I was ruined at an early age,” King joked.
King chose to focus his high school senior project on rain gardens, helping to establish nine throughout his town and one in his own backyard. Rain gardens provide a way for stormwater runoff to filter through soil naturally, rather than allowing it to potentially drain into nearby water sources.
The program allows participants to see how their skills can practically be applied outside of the classroom to help the environment.
As their involvement in the course came to a close, Ode and members of her group traveled to Edmonds.
The students met with members of Edmond’s City Council to deliver an oral report of the findings of their project. The report included ideas on how their recommendations should be implemented.
“To be able to work with an organization that’s giving you feedback, you have to make changes, be adaptive and flexible,” King said. “You aren’t just following the guidelines of an assignment. It has real-world applications which makes your work feel valuable.”
The partnership between Western and Edmonds provided an opportunity for students to use their knowledge and passion. The program allows them to see how their skills can practically be applied outside of the classroom to help the environment.
“Isn’t Western full of students who are wanting to make a difference out in the world?” Davidson said. “That is part of what we are doing here. We are trying to give students the opportunity to go make a difference as a part of their curriculum.”
During fall quarter, the program included the journalism, computer science and environmental studies/science departments. Recreational and environmental departments had the opportunity to partake during winter quarter.
The university has started plans to continue the program next year by hosting an informational meeting for cities interested in partnering with the school in 2017 and 2018.