Monday, January 22, 2018

Square One: Not a Bad Place to Be

Square One: Not a Bad Place to Be
Troy Lampenfeld, Philosophy

I arrived on campus at my home away from home, brimming with nostalgic glee and prepared for the adventures to be brought by my sophomore year. After unpacking and checking out my new place I bid farewell to dog Stanley and my mother who was of course crying as she does any time she drops me at school. This wasn’t quite a normal arrival however; the place was a ghost town compared to what I remembered move in day looking like my freshman year. In fact, I was alone for most of my first day on campus. After all the only people on campus were athletes, faculty, and of course the rest of the River Stewards whom I would grow to know and love over the next few days.

 I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous walking into my first day of orientation. A fresh set of faces and names to learn, new relationships to be explored, and a lot of impressions to make. Despite my nerves however, I made it through the day and through the whole wonderful process of orientation. From being educated on Dayton’s aquifer to laughing with new friends around the fire to paddling through the fountains in downtown Dayton, I loved every second of it. But for the time being I’ll spare you the details of orientation, they’re memories that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, but I think for now I’d like to talk instead about what the experience did for me.

Sophomore year of college I believe will prove to be one of the most formative years of my life. The start of my first semester was the first time that I’d been left entirely to my own devices, living in my own apartment, making my own money and managing my life without the close supervision of parents and guidance counselors that I had freshman year. Freedom to go in whatever direction I chose. Square one. This was my opportunity to prove to myself what I was capable of, but to do that I’d need dedication and conviction.

Now my life before this year wasn’t devoid of those principles, but because of experiences like River Stewards orientation I carved those values deeper into my character, not only in regard to my work ethic, but also my beliefs. Orientation helped to start off one of the most important years of my life by renewing my resolve and reminding me of the reason I’m in school. I gained so much in just a few days it was near unfathomable.

Along with this tremendous benefit to my development as an adult, orientation simultaneously reminded me that even in a time where every pressure in my life points toward responsibility and adulthood, it’s okay to be a kid sometimes. Learning and becoming better while having fun and embracing the things I loved to do showed me that being responsible and dedicated doesn’t have to mean losing myself in the process. And while a stern face and a stiff demeanor are often necessary to get by in the world, every once in a while, it pays to be a kid.

So, as I continue through sophomore year, the starting block for the rest of my life, I stand ready to face down challenges that come my way, and excited take them on with a smile. Much of this confidence I owe to those few long days on the River with my good friends. Thank you all, I won’t forget it.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Living Like Water: Daoism and our Rivers

Living Like Water: Daoism and our Rivers
Kelly Hines, Biology

Recently, we had Dr. Bein in the Philosophy department present to us the theory that we could and should live out Daoist lifestyles, more specifically how we may be successful and at peace living like water.

Prior to this lecture a fellow River Steward, Carter Spires, had leant me the book The Dharma Bums. Both the book and the lecture spoke to me in very different ways, but they also both echoed the call to recognize life and all of it’s challenges and details in new and significant ways. The presentation on Daoism seemed to have called me to be more mindful of challenges in how I act in response to them, not just how they react to me. A lot of time and energy can be wasted by focusing on what you can’t do versus what you can. The book Dharma Bums has introduced this new way of mindful living for me, one that draws me to look more closely not only at how I live but at how others live the ways that they do. I think that being more contemplative about not only what I take part in, but what I view around me has changed my perspective and helped me to focus my outlook on the beauty in which we live in. 

Reflecting back on several events I have taken part in with River Stewards, I can more closely identify with the impactful community members we have met. Most significantly, I really connect with the ideals and the mission that Chad from Living Lands and Waters holds. It is so neat how a guy suddenly decided one day to get up and clean a river, let alone continue this mission throughout the rest of his life up until now. I think that it is interesting to recognize how his life is full of so much meaning, how his daily actions are fulfilling. He is making a difference in ways that many people aren’t brave enough to and I feel as though I myself do not recognize that quality in enough people. We are all brave in different ways, Chad is just brave in a way that connects him not only with the river, but with communities and people. If life is a summation of our connections, then the way in which we live should be centered the way that Chad’s is, making positive connections with whoever he encounters. I see ideals from both the Daoism seminar, and the book when I reflect on how he has come to live the life he leads. I hope for all of us that we can be as brave, and as impactful as Chad was. 

Linking Environment and Economy

Linking Environment and Economy
Jesse Carbonara, Biology
Junior River Steward, Jesse Carbonaro, explains how her experiences in the program shaped her role with the Hanley Sustainability Fund.

Jesse and other analysts from the Hanley Sustainability Fund

River Stewards demonstrate the correlation of environment and economy. Through the Dayton Riverfront Master Plan, we saw how development focused on enhancing current environmental assets can reinforce positive economic development. Firsthand, we have visited organizations that connect environment and economy. Some provide environmental public and private services. Some focus on advocacy and education. Both rely on economic conditions to exist, while contributing to the economy. An environmental business can add growth to the economy, and a growing economy can finance more environmental initiatives.

River Stewards revealed a perspective of environment and economy that I had not been exposed to. This sparked a passion to learn more about this relationship. I took this passion, and I applied to work at the University of Dayton’s Hanley Sustainability Fund. After multiple interviews I was accepted as the first non-business major of the fund, and the 3rd women of the group.

The Hanley Sustainability Fund is student-run investment group with a portfolio exceeding $120,000, whose primary focus is investing in companies that have an environmentally conscious business model. The fund strives to over perform the stock market while embracing environmentally conscious companies. Our investments show the University of Dayton’s commitment to the environment, by divesting from companies whose actions negatively impact the environment. Our fund continually outperforms the stock market demonstrating how showing a passion for the environment can be fiscally beneficial. It seems to be a mutualistic relationship where both environment and business benefit.

My role within the fund is Head of Sustainability. I am responsible for investigating a potential investment environmental impact via a Sustainability report. I have developed a quantitative assessment that analyzes several ways a company can impact the environment. This includes an in-depth look at water and energy usage, waste, carbon emissions, supply chain, and social responsibility. They score in these individual categories based on a rubric with criteria. This criteria analyzes history of reduction, their current plans and procedures, any sustainability oriented goals and the nature of their business. I set goals to ensure that each investment improves the overall sustainability rating of the fund. If it strives to help the fund further achieve our goals it is passed to the next step of deciding if we will invest.

Through this research of companies’ sustainable practices it has become apparent how striving to approve your environmental footprint can help a companies’ bottom line. Sustainability is becoming a cornerstone of all Fortune 500 companies. River Stewards has demonstrated the local relationship and further exposed me to the relationship on a greater scale. I am very thankful for the perspective that River Stewards provides. Given its interdisciplinary nature it provides each member with a broader view of how sustainability connects to the world. In my case, I felt a strong passion to continue to learn about how economy and environment connect

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Stewards for the Environment: The Benefits of Early Childhood Outdoor Education

Stewards for the Environment: The Benefits of Early Childhood Outdoor Education 
Meaghan Lightfoot
2020 Cohort

                As a child, no one was able to ever persuade me to come inside. Every day after school, you could always find me in the wooded area behind my house, running in between and climbing on the trees, building piles of leaves during the fall, exploring creeks, and looking for rocks. I’ve always felt a close connection to nature; I was raised with a high regard for the outdoors and most of the fond memories of my childhood involve those woods behind my house. So, when my Child Development teacher showed a video discussing outdoor education for children, I was intrigued. When the video presentation ended, however, I could hear the scoffs and judgmental remarks of my classmates. “That’s so dangerous.” “I would never send my child to a school like that! So irresponsible!” The news report video was entitled Kids Gone Wild: Denmark’s Forest Kindergartens, in which children were running around in the woods and climbing on trees in 5-degree weather. All this was taking place at a Forest Kindergarten in Demark, under the supervision of a teacher who encouraged the kids to roam freely in the natural environment. When asked for our opinions on outdoor education, I was the only student in the class of 30 who agreed with Denmark’s methods of outdoor learning. As a River Steward, I feel a close and personal connection to nature and the outdoors, and was able to view this video differently than my classmates. It is my belief that fostering outdoor experiences is so incredibly vital and important in the dexterity of child development, especially in a society where technology is distracting us from the natural world.

                  According to the video, 10% of Denmark’s preschools are forest schools, with the classroom being outdoors despite the weather or time of year. The number of Forest schools has doubled in Denmark in the last 20 years, and numbers continue to increase with their rising popularity. The video also addresses the issue of integrating those children who attended forest schools into the classroom environment when outdoor education is no longer offered for their age group. Research is showing that compared to 3 to 5 year-old children educated in classrooms, kids who attended forest preschools and kindergartens are less stressed, can concentrate more, and show better motor development skills. In his article Leave No Child Inside, Richard Louv points out the risks of raising children under the protection of our homes, with no outside experiences or contact, stating this causes “threats to their independent judgement and value of place, to their ability to feel awe and wonder, to their sense of stewardship for the Earth, and most immediately, threats their psychological and physical health.” He then goes on to mention that studies show that “schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math.”

As a future environmental educator, I see the importance of getting children engaged in the natural environment at a young age, fostering a love for the environment that will hopefully stay with them throughout the course of their lives. The outdoors is a place I am passionate about, and that’s why I’m choosing to complete my service requirement at Learning Tree Farm here in Dayton,  Ohio. The farm’s mission is to facilitate learning in a traditional farm setting, allowing people to take the time to explore the outdoor area and see the interwoven connection between humans and nature first hand. Their nature preschool encourages children to develop and implement their curious minds into discovering their surrounding environment. Volunteering at the nature preschool, I’ve witnessed the excitement these kids have coming back to the farm each day, feeding and caring for the animals, and exploring the local flowers and plants. They learn how to be stewards for the environment and gain the appropriate developmental skills all through outdoor, hands on learning experiences. 

The benefits of outdoor education are endless, and the lack of outdoor educational facilities in the U.S. compared to European countries could explain issues surrounding U.S. society and the way in which we treat our environment. Access to nature is continually disappearing through deforestation, construction, pollution, and human expansion. This, along with the value our society places in technology, hinders children from forming a connection with nature. As Lauv puts it, children of our generation lack “places of initiation” or places/experiences in their life that give them a sense of awe and wonderment of our surrounding world. My first place of initiation was my backyard, and thinking about how many children do not experience that feeling of excitement pertaining to the outdoors is upsetting. I believe the next generation would benefit immensely from the implementation of more forest preschools and kindergartens such as Learning Tree Farm. Such schools would foster a love for nature vital to child development and potentially put an end to the mentality that children playing outdoors is “dangerous” or “irresponsible”.

Montgomery County Environmental Learning Center

Montgomery County Environmental Learning Center
Cassidy Count, 2020 Cohort
One of the most memorable and impactful experiences I’ve had this semester with the River Stewards Program was our field trip to the Montgomery Country Environmental Learning Center. The sophomore cohort went on this field trip on our own, and it sticks out in my memory for many different reasons. One reason being what we saw and learned at the center. We were going on a tour of the facilities, when we walk through this door and all the sudden we were in a dark hallway with a huge glass window spanning one wall, allowing us to see a huge area just filled with trash. It is hard to describe this image, but imagine an area the size of a football stadium covered in trash piles as tall as a dump truck. There were trucks in there pushing the trash all together that would be pushed in trash trucks that would come to take it to a land fill. The even more shocking part was that this was at the end of the day and most of it had already been taken for the day. I was awestruck and just stared at all of this as our leader was telling us the specifics of how much there was and how much of it could have been reused or recycled. I could tell by the looks on the rest of my cohorts’ faces that they were just as impacted by seeing this as I was. We often talk about the importance of sustainability, but seeing it was a whole different thing.
But this trip wasn’t just solemn. After we saw this, we walked into this huge room full of little games and activities about trash, recycling, and sustainability, obviously intended for kids to engage them in the subject matter. However, our cohort of 19 to 20 year-old college students spent a good 30 minutes in that room playing with the games and exploring all the different things all the while learning all about this common factor that drew us together as a program. Getting to have this hard-hitting experience, but also getting to have fun with my cohort was a really cool experience and is one of my favorite memories so far.
 Learn more about the Environmental Learning Center here.

The Lorax

The Lorax
Noel Michel, 2020 Cohort
As River Stewards, our program’s mission is to “engage in interdisciplinary and experiential learning, civic engagement, and sustainable community development around rivers;” But how do we stay motivated to accomplish this goal? Today, if you were to google how much trash is in our oceans you would see statistics such as “8 million tons of trash is dumped in the world’s oceans and rivers everyday” or “There is a plastic island the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean”. We live in a throwaway culture society where everything is just for now, and it doesn’t matter where it goes. On our last river cleanup, I could not step one foot without seeing a piece of plastic to be picked up. Because of these facts it is difficult to motivate myself to wake up early on a Saturday morning to attend a river cleanup. After all, it’s just going to be as dirty again in a week or in a month, right? Why don’t we just give up?
Sometimes these thoughts enter my brain, like a poison they try to coax me into giving up, into not caring. But then I remember when I was growing up learning how to read. I was a slow learner at first and was not able to read until the end of first grade, which is unusual for most children. My parents were even considering holding me back a year. When my grandmother heard of what was happening she made it her mission to help me read. One book we read together over and over and over again was The Lorax by Dr. Suess. There was a rhyme in that book that she would always have me read, it was

 “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, its not.”
Because my grandma took the time out of her life to work with me to learn to read I was not held back and caught up with the other students in my grade. The following year I even got a special award issued from my school saying I was above and beyond the reading level for me age group. My grandma did this because she cared and loved for me more than anything else and did not mind taking this time even if it did take her away from other tasks, took a very long time, and only showed short progress. She cared a whole awful lot and things got better. A year later she passed away of a sudden heart attack. I never forgot her, what she did for me, and the lessons I learned from her about caring.
I think of this Dr. Suess quote and my grandmother a lot of the times when I am waking up early on a Saturday morning to go work the RiverMobile, or walking my compost from Stuart hill to Kennedy Union (where the only compost bins are located on campus) in the freezing rain. It is a slow process trying to save the world but I refuse to lose hope. I care about my relationship with the planet and I’m not going to stop. I would clean 1000 more rivers, plant 1000 more trees. I don’t mind being the Lorax. If I am the Lorax other people will want to be too. And someday I know we all will be.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Rabbit Hash, We’re Gonna Get Some Trash"

"Rabbit Hash, We’re Gonna Get Some Trash"
Joe Chandler, 2019 Cohort
Sophomore River Steward, Joe Chandler, recounts his experience volunteering with Living Lands and Waters, a nonprofit dedicated to cleaning America's rivers. This October, 12 River Stewards spent the night on the LLW Barge and volunteered at a river clean-up in Rabbit Hash, KY.
“Where’d they all go?”
We’re here… I think… We sit in the car wondering if we have in fact made it. We’re on what is basically a one lane road in between houses and the Ohio River, with no streetlights, and cars parked on either side of the road in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. Very confused on if we were where we were supposed to be; to meet the rest of our group and to meet our hosts for the night, we walk down the dark one lane road. At the end we see a group of people who look like they might be our group. It was indeed our group; we made it! We were introduced to one of the crew mates of Living Lands and Waters barge! After brief introductions and a run-down of our plan for the night we headed back to the car to get our gear and move the car to the parking lot near the General Store where we found our group. However, after parking the car, there was nobody around. Our group had vanished! Well, I got to thinking, and figured we are supposed to go to a barge, barges float on water, the Ohio River is right next to us, that seems like a good place to go looking for our group! As I walk towards where I think is a path to get to the river I look around and put my arms out to say “Where’d they go!?” I then see a man and a woman with headlamps and hear the familiar voice of Chad Pregracke. I can’t believe it, the founder of Living Lands and Waters is the first one I make acquaintances with; what an exciting moment! He led us down to the barge and in the mean time we had a short conversation. I did not know it as this point, but this introduction would turn into a good relationship the following day during our river cleanup.

That Night
After a tour of the barge and a run-down of what the next day had in store for us, we were free to hang out and relax. The Living Lands and Waters crew were so inviting and made us feel right at home. I grilled them with questions about how a few of them got started and about any opportunities there might be for me to possibly join the team, or at least volunteer during the spring. I felt like a kid again, asking tons of questions to learn about something I knew nothing about!

The Next Day
The next day, Saturday, consisted of a river cleanup. This was the main reason for our visit to Rabbit Hash, KY. I had no idea what was in store for us, but the crew told us we will pull trash out by the boat loads, we will get muddy, and our shoes will never look the same after today. That sounded pretty intimidating. How much trash can there be? Boat loads? Seriously!? … Seriously... There was fog on the river so we had to stay put until that cleared. The garbage barge needed to be sorted through. The shore near where the barge was docked also needed to be cleaned up, so we had things to do in the meantime. After volunteering for a team of three to dig out a truck bed liner that was buried on shore and pick up trash on the shore near the barge, I think Chad knew none of us were afraid of mud and we all wanted to get this area as clean as possible in the short amount of time we were there. After the fog cleared and we could safely travel down the river, we began to clean up the shore a couple of miles away from the barge. I could see from the river that there we garbage cans, 5-gallon buckets, bottles, trash bags, and plastic barrels among other various items that shouldn’t be on the shoreline of a river.

Growing up fishing on lakes and playing along streams myself, I always picked up trash that I saw wherever I was. I had no idea how dirty our rivers actually are. The rest of the day consisted of me going for the largest objects that were buried in the mud. I wanted to get the big things out because that’s what everybody can see from the water and that’s also what took the most work to get out. I teamed up with a few different people throughout the day to get these larger objects out, and frankly the whole team that was out there did an absolutely incredible job! It was amazing to see. Everybody just wanted to get as much trash as possible out of that area. But going back to me being drawn to the large objects, it seemed like Chad knew I could be called upon to help him pick up a plastic barrel full of mud if there was one. And there were many. We made a good team! I continued to grill him and the crew with questions about different work they do, their experiences, hobbies, etc. It was a great day doing some great things with some great people! I hope to volunteer with Living Lands and Waters more, not only throughout my time at UD but throughout my lifetime. It was a truly amazing experience that I will never forget!