UBalt's Service Learning Benefits Students, Baltimore's Jones Falls
January 24, 2023
Contact: Office of Advancement and External Relations
When he first came to The University of Baltimore, Dr. Stanley Kemp knew the best way to teach environmental science would often mean leaving the classroom behind.
He wasn't certain what he might find based on his past experiences working in urban streams, but then he found the Jones Falls—a roughly 17-mile urban stream that runs just a short walk from the UBalt campus. There, in the clear water with the tadpoles and fish, he saw potential.
Over time, the Jones Falls became more than a lab where his students could discover an urban ecosystem's sometimes invisible inner workings. As he started organizing cleanup efforts, Kemp, who serves as director of the B.A. in Environmental Sustainability program, helped to create service-learning opportunities where he could help more members of the UBalt community understand the connections between the stream and the city built around it.
"One thing that I'd like people to take away is that they're capable of stewardship for the environment," Kemp said. "They're capable of caring for it, they're capable of doing the right thing, of advocating for the right thing, and it benefits everything."
This kind of immersive, engaging learning opportunity that Kemp has introduced to his students is an idea that UBalt wants to expand, said Malissa Rivera, coordinator for service learning and student engagement in the Rosenberg Center for Student Engagement and Inclusion.
Rivera hopes to work with more faculty to develop service-learning enhanced courses. These courses can either be new courses or existing courses that already have a service component. To qualify, the courses would need to:
- work with a community partner providing some level of service, which might involve direct service on site, like what Prof. Kemp does, or indirect service such as research support;
- incorporate reflection, such as through journaling;
- complete a general assessment, ideally with input from the partner and participants, to measure impact.
In spring 2022, when Rivera hosted the University's first Community Service Day in several years, the overwhelming response she received from participants was that they wanted more opportunities like that. The Center for Student Engagement and Inclusion has hosted more volunteer opportunities since then, and plans on hosting another big service day this April.
Building the service-learning concept into the coursework not only helps meet some of that demand, but also creates more opportunities for students to develop personally and professionally, Rivera said.
"Service learning helps enhance the student learning experience," she said. "It helps with retention, students tend to perform better academically, feel a stronger sense of belonging to the campus, and they're more engaged with their faculty. Overall, that helps students get into the job market, which is something that UBalt is very committed to."
Kemp is proud of how much his students' work in the Jones Falls elevated their interest in the environment. In some cases, it influenced their next steps after their graduation from UBalt.
Charlie Pjura, B.A. '21, credits Kemp and his lessons for shaping Pjura as a budding scientist. Kemp introduced Pjura to a temporary fisheries job that led to work as a fisheries scientist with Normandeau Associates.
"My desire to work in the science field was greatly strengthened after classes like the Jones Falls one," Pjura said. "Having classes that get you out into the field and collecting real data through sampling techniques is fun and exciting."
Jean Buckler, B.A. '19, learned about experimental design, data collection, how to develop and use observational skills and more from Kemp's classes. These lessons not only helped Buckler when they were looking for a job, but also serve them on the job as an energy auditor.
"For me, it's the perfect mix of hands-on field work and report writing," they said, "and I absolutely would not have gotten this job without being able to lean heavily on my UBalt lab and field work experiences during the interview process."
There were many lessons Sarah McCarthy, B.A. '19, remembers from Prof. Kemp's classes, but overall, she said, their visits helped strengthen her sense of place.
"Growing up in the Delmarva area it was easy to forget that there were forests and streams before there were cities and farms," she said. "Giving Jones Falls some love felt like a step toward reconciling and reconnecting with nature."
McCarthy is now pursuing a Master of Forestry at Northern Arizona University, and as a research assistant, she's focusing on agroforestry and nature-based solutions for farming.
Erin Kelly, B.A. '14, said the group work Kemp required in the field built her confidence as a student and has served her well as a pollution control analyst for Baltimore County, a role that requires inspections and working with different stakeholders.
"Professor Kemp made learning enjoyable," she said. "You could tell that teaching was his passion and he believed in educating his students about the environment and its interconnections with everything around us."