Last updated on May 22, 2020
Should I be relieved or delighted that I have a sabbatical scheduled for fall 2020? Maybe I feel some relief because I don’t have to succumb to the big unknown- what will fall look like at my University? Will we bring students back to campus, will they have to be tested, will faculty have to be tested, and how often? Will we have some funky arrangement to maintain social distancing where on some days some of the students will come to class and others will connect virtually and later in the week the groups will change roles? Will we start some form of face to face and then have to move to online learning like this spring semester and if so for how long? Am I relieved because I get to sit on the sidelines and observe and learn? Should I feel some delight, that I won’t be at risk; I am in the high-risk age zone, just over 60?
I originally had lots of excitement around the detailed plans for my sabbatical. I had various trips planned to foster my professional development growth- a presentation at a favorite annual birding festival; mountaintop monitoring fieldwork in my home state of NH; a trip to Peru to study from the Amazon rain forest on an elevated 25 foot walkway with renowned Canopy Meg; a writer’s fellowship in Oregon that came with a two week cabin stay at a forested long term ecological field site; and to culminate- an invited visit to meet with faculty and graduate students in the Science Communication Program at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. In between the above described trips I was going to work on publications about interdisciplinary projects I have been leading on campus; 1) about our threatened NH migratory bird that breeds in the high peaks and summers on the island of Hispaniola; 2) our student led initiative of offering tree tours of the diverse species we have on campus; and 3) planning, documenting, and celebrating a pollinator friendly campus for our new designation of Bee Campus USA.
Now that my spring grades are submitted and the spring ’19 semester is winding up, I am fully realizing how Covid-19 has put a kibash on so many of my sabbatical plans. All my travel plans have been scrapped. Thank goodness I applied for and was accepted to join the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community (CPLC) and have already had a two-hour inaugural orientation session for the second co-hort group. With a colleague in the Social Sciences, and me being in Environmental Science and Policy, together we are developing and then will co-facilitate an integrated capstone (INCAP) experience on Sustainable Development where students will pursue their own, signature related work, which will prepare and launch them to develop sustainable societies across the globe. I am grateful and looking forward to the design and implementation of what I hope will be an innovative and rewarding experience for me, my colleague, and most importantly our students.
Not surprising, I have always thrived as a field-based learner which is why I crafted the sabbatical I proposed. My last sabbatical involved a fellowship to study two of the most hazardous volcanoes threatening populations in Italy. I was based in Rome for a month. Now my thinking is shifting from taking in new sites to adapting and molding rich learning experiences for students that don’t require physical travel, but instead has them thinking about creating a more sustainable planet in a new normal. We can explore starting with taking actions in our own backyards, or communities, and maybe even on/for our Plymouth State University campus, beginning spring ’21, when we can join together for some hopefully face- to-face environmentally focused service activities. Can we connect with and help inspire similar efforts moving forward across the globe?
No matter the specific theme of our newly proposed INCAP Sustainable Development course for spring ‘21, my thinking as a professor in higher education has changed as a result of adjusting quickly to offering Zoom synchronous meetings this past spring. Now, thanks to the support of the Open Learning Teaching Collaborative CoLab at Plymouth State University, my faculty colleagues in CPLC, and key PSU Administrators, I also am continuing to acquire a new vocabulary which I can use as a lens to reflect on my just completed experiment and design more proactive, intentional rich learning experiences. This vocabulary includes: compassion, flexibility, community, connection, accessibility, accommodations, co-creation, engagement, and equity. What is powerful I am sensing, is that when these terms are blended into learning experiences, there is unimaginable synergy that will develop.
Crafting collective learning experiences focused on finding partners across the globe to create more sustainable societies, will helpfully engender more thoughtful and new approaches to collectively living on and maintaining a “healthy” planet. I am excited to launch this new learning experiment and suspect the rewards will be richer than all the outcomes I envisioned from my robust, carefully constructed travel plans proposed for my sabbatical. I plan to share my thoughts about the process of developing a new recipe along the way, so we can compile a cookbook of tantalizing dishes featuring local ingredients and chefs. We need recipes that will feed our immune systems and nourish us as we learn to live with virulent viruses in our ecosystems.