New ‘Prairie Project’ Class Connects Writing with Nature

Prairie Project Icon

By Mike McKissack

College of DuPage’s new “Prairie Project” service learning class takes students in Developmental English 0492 out of the classroom and into nature for a unique hands-on learning experience.

“The Prairie Project is a new project-based service learning course collaboration that pairs Developmental English Composition sections with volunteering in our community college tallgrass prairie,” said COD Professor of English Danica Hubbard. “Students work as a class with our COD Prairie Manager Remic Ensweiler weekly to engage in ecological restoration and then write about their experiences. The prairie landscape lends itself well to engaging in sensory images and recording descriptions about what students encounter both individually and collectively.”

Hubbard said the idea for the class grew out of a COD Cares activity she participated in during fall 2016 where her group harvested seeds in the natural areas on the campus. She developed the idea with the help of Career Services Manager Steve Gustis and Assistant Manager Krystina LaSorsa and created the curriculum with Ensweiler. She said the class helps to nurture the students’ sense of caring for the Earth while extending their vocabulary, inviting discussion and investing in the community

“In the class, students utilize their outdoor experience on the prairie to practice summary, synthesis and analysis within their writing and reading assignments,” she said. “It’s an interdisciplinary, authentic opportunity to learn, problem-solve and embrace new perspectives. Because we participate as a class, the community and learner support system is enhanced. Students collaborate by working together planting, harvesting and caring for the prairie.”

One of the required texts for the class, “The Tallgrass Prairie,” was written by Cindy Crosby, a writer, teacher and lecturer on tallgrass prairie and nature conservation. She also serves as a steward supervisor for the Schulenberg Prairie at the Morton Arboretum and a steward at Nachusa Grasslands, a nature conservancy site. Responding to a request by Ensweiler and Hubbard, Crosby came to COD to present “Tallgrass Talk,” an interactive event where students were able to ask the author questions about their work in the COD prairie. 

Hubbard said the students use podcasts, nature apps and a variety of digital archives to document their learning experience in the class.

“These activities nurtured their sense of caring for the Earth while extending their vocabulary, inviting discussion and investing in the community. We work together to identify native plants, take steps to control invasive plant species and reduce erosion, ultimately helping to conserve the prairie for our campus and community.”

For more information on this class, contact Professor Hubbard at hubbard@cod.edu.

Featuring 44 acres of land, College of DuPage’s natural areas serve as an outdoor classroom in the biological sciences, enabling students an opportunity to gain real-world experience in field-based research. First planted in 1985, Kirt Prairie comprises approximately six acres of marsh, a one-acre retention pond, 11 acres of reconstructed prairie and savanna, and a quarter mile of seed production beds. Over a half mile of trails, including a 1/6-mile wheelchair accessible stretch, allows easy access for non-consumptive recreational use.

The Glen Ellyn campus is also home to the B.J. Hoddinott Wildlife Sanctuary, the oldest restoration area, which includes a nine-acre marsh and wetland area dedicated in 1983, as well as a 15-acre Ecological Study Area comprising three acres of marsh, four acres of successional woodland and eight acres of reconstructed prairie.

Click here for more information about COD’s natural areas.

College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.   Serving approximately 26,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.

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