GVSU students teach geology lessons at local high school

GVL / Courtesy - Professor Riemersma

GVL / Courtesy - Professor Riemersma

Sarah Hollis

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At Grand Valley State University, the “Laker Effect” can be described as an ongoing effort where students and staff work to positively impact the community, the state and the world. Recently, one of the ways the Laker Effect has been impacting the local community is through the GVSU Ambassadors of Environmental Education project. 

The GVSU Ambassadors of Environmental Education began as a group project for GVSU’s Geology (GEO) 360 course, which is an upper-level issues course, but it became an opportunity for the GEO 360 students to present information about local environmental issues to students at Allendale High School. 

GVSU associate professor of geology Peter Riemersma decided that the end results of the project would end up better researched, as well as have a bigger impact, if his students presented to current high school students instead of just to each other. Some of the topics included the Enbridge pipeline spill, the Oso landslide, the Flint water crisis and sulfide mining in the Upper Peninsula. 

“This project mirrors a real-life career in that it is open-ended and creative, as every group created a presentation that did not exist before,” Riemersma said. “It also involves collaboration and working with others from different backgrounds and majors. The project highlights how most of these issues are complicated and multidimensional, aspects not always evident from sound bites in the media.”

The GEO 360 students were able to present to a more authentic audience, which gave them the opportunity to learn about a topic they didn’t know much about before so they could accurately represent it to the high school students. 

“The experience was great,” said Kristi Hill, one of Riemersma’s students, via email. “I decided on the sustainable resource problem of the Flint water crisis to research. I decided on this issue because it is very relevant in media, and I lacked a coherent understanding of exactly what was going on in Flint. This assignment … encouraged an understanding of current issues and how we can make a change in them by clearing misunderstandings.”

The experience also provided the GEO 360 students with the opportunity to become more engaged and informed about local environmental issues, and then translate that awareness to the Allendale High School students. 

“I think this project and presentation to Allendale High School was a win-win situation,” Riemersma said. “The Allendale High School students learned some of the interesting details concerning many environmental issues, while getting exposed to college expectations and introduced to GVSU. My GVSU students were able to expand their influence beyond the classroom and share their knowledge with potentially impressionable high school students.”

The Student Ambassadors of Environmental Education agree that this experience was a unique and beneficial opportunity for them. 

“Our class was able to give a presentation to a group of students of which had very little understanding of the issues and were able to potentially influence them to be more aware and informed with the social and economic problems happening around them,” Hill said.

The Ambassadors also found that the high school students were eager to learn about these important environmental issues. 

“It was really cool, the kids were really receptive, they were eager to learn, which I didn’t exactly expect,” said Jaco Engelsma, another student in GEO 360.

In addition to teaching the high school students about environmental issues, the Student Ambassadors of Environmental Education also gave the students information about their experience at GVSU and answered any questions the students had. 

“We were all in that position at one point, it’s a really uncertain thing before you go into college, in my opinion,” Engelsma said. “You’re not sure what exactly you want to do. There’s a lot of unknowns, like how hard it’s going to be. It changes your world, it’s a new experience.”

Overall, the GVSU Student Ambassadors of Environmental Education learned a vast amount about local environmental issues, as well as enjoyed the opportunity to teach Allendale High School students about these issues and about GVSU. 

“I learned many things about the current issues the U.S. is having with retaining clean water for ourselves and our environment,” Hill sad. “The most important being that if you allow yourself to be aware of the issues you are surrounded by, you can make a difference in your community by spreading awareness and potentially planting the seeds to further activism in our community.”