back to news Sept. 11, 2014

Students Take to the Rivers, Learn Environmental Citizenship

This past May, more than a dozen students took to the rivers and watersheds to learn about environmental citizenship.

Rick Livingston, associate director of Ohio State’s Humanities Institute and senior lecturer in the Department of Comparative Studies, designed the Maymester course titled, A Place Between The Rivers: Ecological Restoration and Environmental Citizenship in Central Ohio.

“My goal was to deepen students’ awareness and understanding of environmental citizenship by taking them beyond the classroom to witness, first-hand, environmental restoration projects along the rivers of Central Ohio–the Olentangy, the Scioto and Big Darby Creek,” said Livingston.

The course is part of an ongoing Humanities Institute initiative on environmental citizenship, which has focused on bringing in guest speakers and building bridges between humanities scholars and other scientists and social scientists.

Students in Livingston’s class did their share of readings in environmental philosophy and ecocritical reflection but the bulk of the class took place outdoors at projects restoring wetlands, removing dams, preserving habitat and native biodiversity and bringing back ecological keystone species, such as bison, which have been absent from Ohio for almost 200 years.

Livingston developed A Place Between the Rivers with an eye toward creating dialogue about our sense of place.

“Seeing the impact of these projects on the environment, and at the same time, having the opportunity to engage with the people directly involved with the work, encourages students to question, analyze and ponder not only the impact of these projects but what it means to be an ‘environmental citizen.’”

Starting from the ideas of bioregion and ecological community, students examined the natural and cultural history of human settlement in Central Ohio, conflicting ideas about land sue and natural resources and recent attempts to develop, improve, preserve and restore nature and/or the environment at large.

Rory O’Shaughnessy, a junior majoring in microbiology, was especially keen to get up close with river restoration projects. She is an avid rower.

“The rivers are so important to me," said O’Shaughnessy. “Obviously, on some level, I knew that before this course. But this class really taught me the importance of how to behave like a citizen – that it means being aware of your impact on the area around you.”

Another student in the class, Brittany Helms, signed up for the course to fulfill the graduate requirement but walked away with so much more.

“I’m a ceramics major so I’m always thinking about creating and caring for things,” said Helms. “This class made me think much more about my place and my role in the environment.”

“Our corner of the world is currently being reshaped by projects both intentional and unintended,” said Livingston. “It’s critical that students develop a sense of citizenship and humanity that includes the physical world they live in.”

About the Humanities Institute's Environmental Citizenship Initiative

In his role as associate director of Ohio State’s Humanities Institute, Rick Livingston is leading the institute’s Environmental Citizenship Initiative to address the challenge of creating a culture of ecological literacy for the 21st century. The initiative brings together students, staff, faculty, researchers and community members to explore the many dimensions of environmental concern and sustainability, from climate change and biodiversity to local food systems and green cities. The Environmental Citizenship Initiative promotes innovative approaches to environmental awareness and understanding. Current projects include BioPresence: Bringing (Other Than Human) Animals into the Framework Plan, a multi-media collaboration with Ohio State's AWASH (Animal Worlds in the Arts, Sciences and Humanities) group.