Curricular Enhancement Grant: LSS Class Carries Out Ongoing Project in Ward 3

2 Apr

Each year CEEDS invites proposals from faculty (and teams of faculty) for modification and enhancement of existing courses that will support the CEEDS mission—to graduate women who excel at integrating knowledge across disciplines in support of environmental decisions and actions. Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some of the excellent and creative work of the faculty who have utilized these Curricular Enhancement Grants. If you have questions regarding Curricular Enhancement Grants please contact Joanne Benkley at jbenkley@smith.edu.

One crucial component in maintaining a healthy living space is the establishment of an ongoing relationship between community members. This is true no matter what kind of setting we might find ourselves in. For students living on a college campus, it can be especially easy to forget about the thousands of lives being lived all around us that have nothing to do with Smith College. This lack of connection to other members of our community is not something to be spared our thoughts or our time. Our overall goals at Smith should be to relate our acquired classroom knowledge to the world around us—In other words, we must apply our learned skills and fresh ideas to our everyday actions so that we can be positive assets to whatever community we find ourselves in.

With that in mind, CEEDS gives annual Curricular Enhancement Grants to faculty that seek to integrate environmental awareness into their curricula. One such grant was given several years ago to Reid Bertone-Johnson, lecturer  in the Landscape Studies department, who sought to integrate his students with the greater Northampton community. Reid proposed a curriculum in which his students would interact in various ways with members of the Ward 3 community, and who would by the end of the semester present their ideas on how to improve the neighborhood’s overall quality in terms of safety and accessibility (ability for inhabitants to be mobile). Reid was kind enough to sit down with me and explain his project in more detail.

The idea of facilitating a connection between Smith students and Ward 3 inhabitants began to be seriously considered when Marcia McNally, a visiting professor from the Environmental Design College at UC Berkeley, carried out a project of her own in Ward 3. The great amount of positive feedback that she received encouraged Reid to continue efforts in the community with his own students.

One of the first big tasks Reid’s LSS classes carried out was to gather as much information as possible about the neighborhood in a very short period of time. This intense process—formally referred to as REAP (Rapid Ethnographic Assessment Procedure)—was conducted over the course of one week in November of 2010, during which time the students did such things as stand on Ward 3 street corners and mark down the gender of passerbys, as well as map signs of activity and conduct surveys with willing participants based on certain observable reoccurrences in consistent spots (such as piles of dog poop or empty beer bottles). Following this data collection, the students gave presentations of their findings to the members of Ward 3, and then led inclusive discussions from which they formulated possible areas of focus for their future work. One area of particular interest happened to be the fence around the Ward 3 cemetery, which several Smith students suggested removing in order to ensure a safer space for walkers and joggers.

Reid’s LSS students have since continued working in Ward 3, doing similar projects on a smaller scale. Based on their neighborhood observations, students continue to identify issues and suggest subtle changes that the community can respond to. Due to the ongoing meetings with community members, the Ward 3 Liaison, the President of the Neighborhood Association, and the City Councilor, the work being done by Reid’s LSS students is very promising. This summer Reid hopes to finish the GIS Database as well as create a primer on how to carry out similar projects in other areas.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep the dialogue flowing in a meaningful way and to maintain this relationship between Smith College and the Northampton community.

Angela M. ’14, CEEDS Intern

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