Experiential Interdisciplinary Learning through Community Partnerships in Ecological Restoration
Warren Gold, Ph.D. (Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Bothell), Kern Ewing, Ph.D. (School of Forest Resources, UW Seattle), Jim Fridley, Ph.D. (School of Forest Resources, UW Seattle), Rodney Pond, Ph.C. (School of Forest Resources, UW Seattle)
The UW Restoration Ecology Network capstone provides an opportunity for students to apply academic knowledge to a real-world experience in restoring damaged landscapes with a community partner. Over an entire academic year, students from all three UW campuses work in small teams on multiple phases of a restoration project, including site analysis, proposal and work plan development, field implementation, community capacity building, and stewardship training. Students undertake projects that have been identified as important by the community partner, but for which they have limited financial or technical resources. While students and faculty provide technical expertise, the community partners guide students in helping to foster the local social changes needed for long term project success.
Restoring ecosystems is a multifaceted endeavor that enlists knowledge from a variety of natural science fields. In addition, doing this within an urban matrix must account for, and even take advantage of, the social and individual capital present. These complex challenges of successfully developing intertwined social and ecological systems demand interdisciplinary approaches. The capstone student teams are deliberately assembled of seniors (and a few graduate students) from diverse academic fields. Students each contribute different academic and personal expertise to their teams to forge truly integrated solutions to project challenges. Beside the inherent value of completing a major project and exposure to experiential learning, the students benefit by developing capabilities in (1) applying knowledge and expertise in a team environment, (2) communicating effectively across disciplinary boundaries, and (3) developing solutions firmly rooted in academic principles and knowledge.