Students focus on sustainability

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SustainabilityA living laboratory

For students studying ecology, geography, and environmental science, the Bard College at Simon’s Rock campus is a living laboratory. Eighty percent of the College’s 375 acres remain undeveloped, providing a home to numerous, rare, and threatened plant and wildlife species.

Professor Bob Schmidt is an ichthyologist who teaches a range of ecology and zoology courses. Schmidt has worked with students for years to monitor and steward the ecological conditions of the campus.

They’ve found wooly adelgids (an Asian insect) on the hemlock trees prominent in the forest around campus. The wooly adelgid feeds on the hemlock sap, eventually killing the trees.

Schmidt and his assistants also work to remove Eurasian Water Chestnuts from the campus ponds. “If we didn't remove them, the pond would change drastically and probably destroy the population of Bridle Shiners, a ‘special concern’ species in Massachusetts,” explains Schmidt, an authority on the fishes of the Hudson River, who often hires particularly committed students for summer research work.

Sustainability in the classroom

Located in a region with a strong agricultural base and a high concentration of farms, it’s fitting that the College offers two new courses focused on food sources. Both courses address food production, alternative agriculture, and the impact of climate change on production:

  • Agroecology, an environmental studies class, uses the Simon’s Rock Community Garden to explore ecologically sound practices in Agriculture, and the history and future of agricultural production in the industrialized world.
  • All About Food: Current Issues in the Western Food Culture, a biology course, explores food production methods and the economics of food production and availability in the United States.

A semester-long lecture series on food and society addresses issues in environmental science, public policy, and public health, and complements both courses.

Campus sustainability efforts

Encouraged by Provost Peter Laipson and academic dean Anne O’Dwyer, students have recommitted to, and reinvigorated the Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC).

CSC is working to better coordinate campus wide efforts aimed at promoting sustainability. “By having the Campus Sustainability Committee, Simon’s Rock shows a long-term commitment to exploring sustainable options,” shared senior Johanna Koons. “The members on CSC represent every aspect of our college: professors, students, physical plant employees, dining hall staff, technology support, administrators, and admissions counselors.”

“For such a small campus, it’s amazing how many different things are going on,” said CSC student representative Lauren Payne-Riley.

Beyond Simon’s Rock

In addition to research opportunities inside and outside the classroom with professors, students use their summers and junior years to continue their work on sustainability.

They hold internships at organizations like the Nature Conservancy, the United Nations, and the Open Society Institute. They work tirelessly on the many organic farms throughout the region. They enroll in year-long study abroad programs in Costa Rica and Australia that focus on sustainability and environmental action.

On campus and off, Simon’s Rock students demonstrate their commitment to addressing climate change and their concern for our environment.