Jaime Alvarez, a professor of geography/geospacial applications at CCBC Essex, always stresses to his students that there is more to his classes than just learning how to create a map.
What is important, Alzarez says, is for students to gain the ability to gather and properly interpret data collected from those maps in order to understand the environment around the mapped geography.
Alvarez’s students received a real-life lesson on this last year when they used a geographic information system to track how much trash was being littered across campus. The students discovered that 60 percent of that trash could be recycled.
“It was impressive to learn just how much waste on campus could be recycled,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez and his students plan on being out and about on campus today to further track the litter pattern as part of CCBC’s participation in the Great American Cleanup.
The cleanup is part of the campus’ Earth Week effort. CCBC Essex dedicated this week to cleaning up the campus because the college will be closed for spring break on Earth Day, which is April 22.
Alvarez said he and his students plan on using their data, along with that collected from the previous year, to help plan strategic locations to place recycling bins across campus.
“The goal is to go back in future years and see what impact our work has on the amount of trash being picked up across campus,” Alvarez said.
In addition to their work on the cleanup, Alzarez’s students also helped create a map, placed in a new kiosk, that outlines the CCBC Essex Fitness and Nature Trail.
The campus unveiled the kiosk during a brief ceremony Monday to kick off the college’s Earth Week events. IKEA in White Marsh donated the kiosk.
“We stress sustainability as a company and being active in a community project like this is an extension of that work,” said Bill Meiswinkel, head of public relations for the IKEA store.
Along with the unveiling of the kiosk, students from the International Students Association planted three trees—two cherry blossoms and a Japanese maple tree—along the trail. The goal of the student group is to place at least three non-invasive plants representing a different country each semester. They also received support from the art department to place replicas of plants from countries whose plants could be destructive to the ecosystem.
“We wanted the trail to represent the multicultural aspect of the school while also being aware of the negative environmental impact certain plants may have on campus,” said Vu Hoang, 20, a Vietnam native and vice president of the International Students Association.
CCBC Essex campus dean Al Starr said the college has a full slate of Earth Week activities planned. Along with the cleanup, the school will host a garden party at which students and others on campus can learn about organic gardening.
Then, from 12:30-1:20 p.m. on Wednesday, master gardener Kim Barnes will host a lecture on “bay-wise landscaping,” which teaches people how to care for their yards while reducing runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
Finally on Thursday, CCBC Essex will host an Earth Day fair, where outside vendors and environmental experts will offer tips on how to take better care of the planet.
“Taking care of the environment while also providing educational opportunities for the students is an important part of CCBC’s mission,” Starr said.
The organic garden has quickly become a centerpiece of environmental lessons on the Essex campus. What started as a student's sociology project has grown to include nearly 100 volunteers, including students, faculty, staff members and even nearby residents.
Environmental science professor Beth Shrader said CCBC provided the campus with a $6,000 grant to set up the organic garden. This allowed students, with the help of workers on campus, to build a fence, set up a shed and purchase the needed equipment.
Shrader said those involved with the garden have harvested about 54 bushels of vegtables—including potatoes, green beans and cucumbers—in the past year. Most of the harvest has been donated to the Eastern Family Resource Center, a shelter next to the campus.
“Working on this garden has been a truly rewarding experience,” Shrader said. “It provides students with a real-life opportunity to learn about organic gardening and sustainability while also making a difference in the community.”