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Two Green Thumbs Up for Service Learning in Professor Stephens' Class

Margaret Stephens, associate professor of Social Science, teaches environmental conservation and geography, connecting lessons in the classroom to issues within the city.

The approach, called service-learning, fosters a sense of ownership in students and gives them a role in bettering society.

When State Representative Donna Bullock and a panel of environmental leaders from across the city came to the College’s Main Campus on March 20, 2018, to discuss green jobs and ways to combat environmental injustice, Stephens’ class was in the room soaking in the differing views and learning strategies.

Tykee James, a legislative assistant for Rep. Bullock and co-coordinator of the event, said he was especially excited to see the sea of new faces in the crowd.

“Normally when I do these kind of environmental events across the city of Philadelphia, a lot of the people that I see are a lot of the people that I have seen—they work in this industry or they’ve already been an established advocate,” says James. “There’s no up and comer, there’s no sprouts. And so I want to see what I can do to help develop this new generation. It’s part of the principle of lifting as we climb.”

Many of the students in Professor Stephens’ environmental conservation class expressed a genuine interest in the topic and a desire to have an impact.

Kamise Rodriguez, a sophomore preparing to graduate on May 5 with an associate degree Culinary Arts, hopes to find a way to address the issue of food waste in the restaurant industry. Events like this, she says, provide yet another opportunity outside of the classroom to get started.

"College-aged students are interested in the environment, but they don't always know how to connect, what avenues are out there, and what can be done. So, I do think it's important for the College to provide that [message of]: here's what you can do on a local level to make a difference,” she says.

Samantha Thompson, a Paralegal Studies major, is passionate about what she identifies as the deterioration of biodiversity. Through the required service-learning project in Stephens’ class, she had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2018 Philadelphia Flower Show. The experience was an exciting one that deepened her knowledge of vegetation.

"I want to address this environmental issue with everybody, not just within the school. So [through service-learning] I'm getting [to do] both,” says Thompson.

She adds that Stephens’ class, and access to events like the Environmental Justice Panel event, offer more than a fundamental understanding of science.

"A lot of times...when [people] think about environmental science, they think of statistics, carbon—the scientific side of it. But they don’t understand the political, economic, or communal side of it. And that's really important to address, that way more people can get involved."

For Jym Baker, a soon-to-be graduate who is among the city’s legions of returning citizens, his strong desire to empower others and build a sense of shared community led him to check out the event. He also had hoped to learn more about the green jobs, which were promoted at the table manned by staff from Career Connections.

"I was real excited about the event because of the information at the tables. I took it back to my agency, which is The Center for Carceral Communities,” says Baker, who is a mentor and co-facilitator at the center.

He said he was able to connect there with Solar States, a Certified B-Corporation founded in 2008 “with a dual mission to install solar and educate the next generation.” He hopes his new connection will help. 

"Me being an unconventional student in my 50s... it's given me a sense of worth—to find these things out,” says Baker. “A lot of [which is learning] how to navigate through the academic and social aspect of college, so this is some cool stuff!"