By Grant Welker, Herald News
Reprinted with permission
English professor Jerry Blitefield stood before the dry-erase board with his marker and asked the 25 or so students how they encountered water during their day. The course is on environmental sustainability, with a focus on water - requiring students to think about something so omnipresent in a different way.
Brushing teeth, showering, washing laundry and walking through the rain were a few answers. Others said they used water to wash their hands, make coffee or tea, or came across water in dining halls where it was used to keep food hot. Blitefield wrote the list on the board. A few admitted they left the water running while brushing. The students weren't so sure when Blitefield asked where, exactly, the water came from or where it ended up.
This past Spring semester was the third Topics in Sustainability course. The course has explored a different topic each semester since it started in Spring 2007. At that time, the course discussed food. In fall 2007, the topic was consumption.
Blitefield taught the class with four other professors - from biology, marine science and technology, history and political science backgrounds - to cover broad aspects of studying water.
The plan is for students to study water's role in ecosystems and its relationship to agriculture and aquatic life. They'll also consider the historical significance of water in the rise of civilization, the assumptions we make about water and their impact, even the relationship between water use and political conflict.
Students who enroll are, like their professors, from all fields of study.
Rhonda Fazio, an art history and textile design double-major, said she took the sustainability class to develop a better understanding of consumption in societies through history. She has already applied what she learned in the course to her textile production research, she said. The New Bedford artist also hopes to study sustainability as a graduate student.
Junior business marketing major Matt Grein wasn't too interested in environmental studies until he happened to come across the course, he said. He enrolled in the two previous sustainability courses and is taking this semester's course on water. "I totally fell in love," Grein said. "I knew it would be a passion of mine. The class lets you open your mind and allows you to think in terms you wouldn't necessarily think about." He hopes to work with environmental companies after college, perhaps doing marketing for green companies or environmental consulting.
Timothy Walker, a history professor co-teaching the water sustainability course, said the sustainability courses give students "a sense of urgency and mission." "Many young people quite rightly feel a need to become knowledgeable about environmental problems and sustainability methods," Walker said. "That's the first step in learning how to address current environmental problems." It was a grassroots effort from faculty that started the sustainability courses, Blitefield said.
Ana-Maria Bell, a freshman who took the sustainability course last fall, is one student who said she'd be interested in enrolling in the minor. "By all assessments, our era bears the crucial task of transitioning into a more sustainable state, unless we want to see what grimmer impacts we're capable of bringing about," said Bell, who wants to work in developing countries creating sustainable living infrastructures.