Ecological Teaching and Learning Residency Experiences

Two summer residencies, one rural and one urban, allow students to experience a variety of ecological systems.

The Ecological Teaching and Learning program consists of two summer residencies a year apart, and online coursework during the year. Below are accounts of what typically happens during each residency.

Summer I: Residency on the Coast of Maine

In the rural residency, educators gather for three weeks in Cobscook Bay on the coast of Maine to launch themselves into an 18-month graduate program. Day after day, in a rigorous, packed schedule, the group traverses the back roads along Cobscook Bay to visit with local experts in organic food production, lobster fishing, and Passamaquoddy native herbal medicines. They also talk with land trust conservationists, park rangers, and many others. Students work in fields, empty lobster traps, do citizen science, build new bog trails through coastal lands, participate in an archeological dig, and learn about systems theory through lecture, books, and games.

Students and teacher examining specimens on seaweed-covered rocks on Maine coast
Exploring Quoddy Head

The backdrop is always the rocky coast of Maine, the extreme tides that come and go twice daily in Cobscook Bay, and the clearness of the night sky. Greeted by fireflies, chewed on by mosquitoes, and snapped at by green crabs when tide pooling, graduate student educators find themselves falling into their camp beds each night exhausted and happy.

Eighteen months fly by as students work hard to deepen their ecological knowledge of the world and bring their fresh perspectives of systems ecology to their students.

"Through a series of experiences and discussions, this residency deepened my understanding of systems thinking, awakened me to a more comprehensive embodiment of social justice, changed my definition of sustainability, and inspired me to, once again, reevaluate and transform my teaching practice."
Kim McCabe ’16

Summer II: Residency in Boston, MA

During the urban residency, students spend three weeks investigating the ecological interactions in the urban ecosystem of Boston. They also learn how to integrate the concepts of environmental justice and civic democracy into their teaching practice.

Students explore diverse Boston neighborhoods by designing guided walks, exploring specific areas through an urban planning lens, and creating planet lines. They explore Boston's water system by visiting the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts, meeting with an educator from the Massachusetts Water Regional Authority, and touring the Bay State Fertilizer facility.

As part of our exploration of urban food production, students visit the urban farms that are part of The Food Project and the Victory Gardens in the Fens. They also spend a day on Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor, engaging in citizen science and participating in a landscape design workshop at the Olmsted National Historic site.

Students gathered at Boston Harbor, with skyline, sailboats, and greenspace
Boston Harbor

Students explore issues of environmental justice by visiting the people and places directly involved in working towards creating "just sustainability." Sheila Blair '14 described these experiences when she wrote, “The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Alternatives for Community and Environment, which includes the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Program, are organizations in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston that epitomize using a socioecological systems approach to achieve a sustainable future. Both organizations are employing a social, economic, environmental, and cultural strategy to revision, reimagine, and reestablish one of the most culturally diverse, poorest, neglected, and devastated neighborhoods in Boston… These organizations are inspirational and heroic in their sustainable efforts and strategies, and helped restore my faith in humanity.”

The group also spends a day on Cape Cod with Annawon Weeden, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag, and learn about the history of the people who are indigenous to the place we now call Boston.

students posing for a picture during the summer at urban rooftop farm
Visiting a Whole Foods rooftop farm
"This experience gave me hope that people are viewing cities through a systems thinking lens and that sustainability may actually be an achievable goal. My spirit was renewed not only by viewing advancements in technology, strong conservation efforts, and educational outreach networks, but also by the extraordinary strength of collaboration, grassroots activism, and community empowerment that I witnessed."
Kathleen Regan ’15