Kelly Parker presents at a microphone in a room with high ceilings, a row of students stands behind him, all are wearing white long-sleeved tshirts

Students in environmental studies class immerse themselves on Beaver Island during field school

Ten Grand Valley students had what a faculty member called "a study abroad experience in the middle of Lake Michigan" to cap off an environmental and sustainability studies course.

Kelly Parker, professor of philosophy and environmental and sustainability studies, led students to Beaver Island for a week of field work in late June. Parker began planning this trip three years ago with a colleague, Seamus Norgaard, from North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, who owns property on Beaver Island.

"Beaver Island is a magical place, one of the most ecologically diverse places in Michigan," Parker said. "When you are crossing over on the ferry from Charlevoix to this distinct, somewhat isolated place, it's like going to a study abroad experience."

Home base for the group was the Central Michigan University Biological Research Station campground. Students completed group and individual projects that focused on the island's rich ecological and cultural history and engaged with island experts.

group of 11 people hold Beaver Island flag while standing on shoreline of Lake Michigan
Students and Kelly Parker, professor of philosophy and environmental and sustainability studies, (standing, fourth from left) hold a Beaver Island flag during their field school on the Lake Michigan island.
Image credit - courtesy photo
woman pulls plant from ground while group of students stands near her, on road in forest
Students immersed themselves in the history, ecology and culture of the island, often guided by island residents.
Image credit - courtesy photo

Courtney Allen, an integrative studies major, is participating in the accelerated degree program. She said she enjoyed learning from the island's residents, including Cynthia Pryor, a member of the Amik Circle Society, who led a trip to a sacred stone circle. 

"The circle is thought to have been used for ceremony and wayfinding by Native Americans," Allen said. "We also had the great honor of participating in a water ceremony led by Gennie Morgan, a Chippewa wisdom keeper and elder, who opened the island's sustainability fair."

As an adult learner, Allen said she wanted to take this ENS 380 course because it aligned with her passions when she first attended Grand Valley.

"When I left Grand Valley in 2014, environmental studies was only a minor. It's so great to see the interest in sustainability studies and the growth of the program," she said.

Parker was pleased with how the inaugural field school went and plans to offer the course next year, saying it embodies the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental studies program. 

"Our interdisciplinary approach was to immerse ourselves in the history, ecology, economy and culture of the island. Each of us developed what I think of as a ‘deep map’ of Beaver Island. Our local contacts were so helpful and so excited to be working with us; they were happy to share their knowledge and love of the island," Parker said.

woman stands on top of round, tall rock in forest; she is wearing a white tshirt
Courtney Allen was one of 10 students to participate in a field school on Beaver Island.
Image credit - courtesy photo


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