As we approached campus from the Minneapolis Airport, we saw billboards advertising UMM as offering "a renewable, sustainable education." Many of our classes and activities the first week helped the STELLAR students understand what we mean when we talk about sustainability in Morris and opened up more general discussion about our relationship to the land that we live on.
Our lessons in environmental studies began with a short tour led by an organization called GreenCorps. The two GreenCorps members showed us some of the sustainable or "green" projects on campus including the solar panels that heat the community swimming pool and the biomass plant, which uses steam to provide electricity, heating, and air conditioning to campus for different parts of the year. It's hard to believe that we have the biomass plant to thank for having cool places to study in the summer!
The last stop on our tour was one of Morris' two wind turbines, which in addition to giving the campus much of its electricity, provides a favorite place for many students at UMM to spend their free time during the autumn and spring. We could see why it's such a popular spot!
After learning about the projects on campus to support sustainable living, we took a couple trips off campus to learn more about the changing landscape. Before European immigrants came to occupy this land, West Central Minnesota--the part of the state where Morris is located--was mostly prairie and wetlands; the landscape had few trees and was home to grazing bison and countless other species. Since the prairie has been converted to farmland, the landscape and the ecosystems of West Central Minnesota have changed drastically. We got to see some of these changes for ourselves as we drove past the rows cornfields to visit two small pockets of land that have not been exploited for agriculture: the Morris Wetlands Management District and Glacial Lakes State Park. Styron Bell from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited our class and helped us identify the hides of some common Minnesota mammels before leading us on a tour of the wetlands to see the landscape for ourselves. The following day, UMM Professor Margaret Kuchenreuther took us to the prairie, where we saw traces of some of the same animals Styron had introduced us to the day before. In addition, we saw egrets, a vole, and countless interesting species of insects and plants. Joe even kissed a frog!
Many of us ended our day with some star gazing in the campus observatory with the help of a Morris physics professor. There's nothing like seeing the glow of Mars and the rings of Saturn far in the distance to help us realize how delicate, beautiful, and worth protecting our own planet is.