Monday, October 21, 2013

Civic Engagement in Class

One of the most obvious perks of attending Macalester is the opportunity to get off campus and experience the Twin Cities. (Exploring new restaurants is my favorite activity.) But I never anticipated the manifold opportunities to engage with the metro area through coursework.

Case in point: My first assignment at Macalester was to hop on a bus and do a write-up of a local farmer’s market. (I got lost and dabbled in food photography.)

This semester I’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with some nearby city neighborhoods through my class Qualitative Research Methods for Geography. As we learn nonstatistical research skills we’re also working through a community partnership with the Freshwater Society and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, investigating how people think about and care for their yards. (People get pretty riled up about lawn mowers and rain gardens, it turns out.) My classmates and I knock on doors trying to get residents to fill out questionnaires for our research.

So far I’ve:
  • been snappily accused of soliciting (research doesn’t count, legally)
  • received a fresh-picked honeycrisp apple (yes, please)
  • made terrible drawings of shrubbery and downspouts
  • learned about the grass diet of some local cats (fertilizer kills)

Me with my official-looking, chock-full clipboard of survey materials on my designated door-knocking street.

On top of my weekly research trips, I’m also taking a class called Water and Power, an environmental studies-geography-political science course that focuses on river systems and all that they entail. With the Twin Cities being home to the mighty Mississippi, this class got me off campus recently, too.

For a group project, three classmates and I went on an outing to Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul, a beautiful spot nestled above the river with a fascinating geologic history, an old airport beacon, and, of course, its namesake: the ancient burial mounds of Native Americans who once lived on that land. Just an easy bus ride away, this park is both scenic and a great topic for our project, which will offer suggestions on how to make the rich history of this riverside area more accessible to the community.

View of the St. Paul skyline from the park
View of the Mississippi from the park’s overlook (the tiny St. Paul airport, which I didn’t know existed, is on the other side)
Burial mounds from the walking path

 Group selfie!

I honestly can’t gush enough about a) how utterly lovely the Twin Cities are and b) how refreshing it is to walk around a park (or discuss leaf removal with eccentric homeowners or visit a farmer’s market) and be able to connect those experiences with the weekly readings and lectures in my classes. It's luxurious to know I'm doing homework but feel like I'm exploring.