Eye on KELOLAND: Embracing the outdoors

Eye on KELOLAND

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Augustana University will begin the fall semester with about 25 people majoring in Environmental Studies.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Caring for the environment is a deeply-rooted value on Augustana University’s campus.

But new ways of embracing the outdoors have sprouted up in recent years through the university’s sustainability program.

“When you allow students to get their fingernails dirty, to dig in the earth and put some plants in the ground and watch them grow and then, even better, pass that on to the next generation of students, that becomes a classroom that continues to teach again and again,” Director of sustainability and environmental studies Dave O’Hara said.

From an outdoor classroom, to the Prairie Garden Labyrinth there are many ways students can take learning outside and connect with the environment.

The maze of recycled stone snaking through a garden is a place where students, faculty, and staff can walk around or just relax.

“Students who like to garden are welcome to participate in the gardening. Anyone who wants to move the stones and reshape it is welcome to do that” O’Hara said.

Just across campus, you’ll find an apple orchard.

Director of sustainability and environmental studies Dave O’Hara says the patch of trees is in its second year of producing fruit.

“One of the things we’ve done with the sustainability program is start something new like this here, the orchard. We didn’t have an orchard on campus before. But another thing that we’ve done is that we’ve taken things that were already here and tried to make them self-sustaining and something that’s going to be connected and rich,” O’Hara said.

Beehives will also be coming in the future.

They’ll be located between the orchard, and the university’s vegetable and pollinator gardens.

“The bees could pollinate each of those. It ends up becoming a self-sustaining system,” O’Hara said.

K.C. Carlson is an associate professor of anthropology.

She brings her students outdoors a lot.

“A lot of the work I do has to deal with the study of people as we interact with each other and as we interact with our environment,” Associate professor of anthropology K.C. Carlson said.

She’s excited to see the campus growing and fostering sustainability.

“I think embracing the outdoors makes us better people, but it makes us better stewards of our environment as well. It’s really easy to forget how connected we are to the outside when we’re in a building, in a structure all the time,” Carlson said.

O’Hara says the sustainability effort isn’t just beneficial for people and the environment, but it’s also important on a broad scale.

“All over the world, we are seeing this. Businesses, investment firms, everybody wants to become more sustainable. Everybody wants to make sure that the money they’re investing, it’s going to continue to yield a positive return, not just for the short-term, but for the long-term. Who doesn’t want to save up for their children, their grandchildren, and for as many generations as may come after them. I want to train my students to do all of that,” O’Hara said.

Augustana University launched its environmental studies program about a year ago, and already about 25 people are majoring in it going into the new semester.

Fall classes begin at Augustana on September 1.

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