UW Bothell News

Innovation BEEyond the Classroom

Innovation BEEyond the Classroom

Published: August 29, 2012

(photos courtesy of Ajay Pellegrini)

On a perfect summer day in Seattle, two groups of students gathered near Nora’s Woods, a small wooden enclave in the heart of an urban neighborhood in Seattle’s Central District. Two classes were represented: A class in urban bee studies and a class on public art and restoration, both taught by instructor Amy Lambert, Ph.D., in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

“Who saw bees on the walk over here?” Lambert asks students in the art and restoration class.  A few hands are timidly raised.

“And how about the bee class?” she asks.  Almost all the hands shoot up, as the students talk excitedly about what they saw.

“By studying bees, students gain the power to learn and observe things that may have seemed inconsequential,” Lambert says. Many come to form a deeper understanding and cultivate a sense of stewardship, which often extends to other environmental causes.”

Pollinator Pathways: Ecological Restoration

The two classes were assembled on a Saturday to meet artist Sarah Bergmann, who is the founder of Pollinator Pathways, a mile-long corridor of residential gardens that have been carefully planted to establish habitat and food resources for pollinators. Bergmann is an artist who became interested in the plight of pollinators and decided to do something about it.

(Photo: Professor Amy Lambert)

Like Bergmann, Lambert began as an artist but later did doctoral work in conservation biology. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection between art and ecology."

The afternoon session spent discussing the Pollinator Pathway helped students grasp the concept of restoration ecology. “It’s an opportunity for people living in urban environments to be involved in the reconstruction of ecological processes, Lambert says. “Humans need a relationship with natural environment.”

Lambert says for many students, the bee class is the “first time they have closely observed bees." For example, "students begin to understand the important cultural and ecological roles pollinators play in food production and evolution of plant diversity."

Fourth-year student Ajay Pellegrini has taken both the public art and urban bee classes. “I was terrified of bees before I started her class,” she says. “I learned so much about various bees and how they create habitat.  Each bee has a different lifestyle and habitat.”

A Truly Interdisciplinary Course

In fact, 12 different bee genera have been observed on the UW Bothell campus, including five species of bumblebees, Lambert says. The bee class can only be taught in the summer, when the bees are most active. “Bumblebees and honeybees are both great organisms to study,” Lambert says. “It’s rare we get to see such diversity in animals.”

Many students report that the urban bee class is one of the favorite classes they have taken at UW Bothell.

“Amy had something special. She’s able to really teach everybody on every level.  Her ability to be so passionate and explain it on many levels is the reason I took both classes,” Pellegrini says. “The opportunity to understand things from a truly interdisciplinary approach is really a summary of what the IAS program is.”