Service Issue: Class offers exposure to urban sustainability

Students take part in local green service project for class credit.

Green vs. Gray is a general education course that explores different ways of preserving and improving urban environments. Students learn about many green initiatives involving the planning, installation and maintenance of trees. Students also participate in community service to make the city more sustainable.

“You have to get involved. It could be tree planting, cleaning up a vacant lot, volunteering and teaching children about the environment,” said Joshua Decker, a freshman theater and French double major. “I’m specifically working with the Temple Community Gardens.”

Anna Bair, a freshman film major, has chosen to work with children for her service project.

“I’m going to mostly help out at the Penrose Community Center, teaching little kids about gardening and things like that,” Bair said. “I really like kids and I think it will help me because I’ll be able to relate to people more.”

Both Decker and Bair decided to take the class not only because it fills a general education science requirement, but also because they were interested in learning more about the environment.

“[The environment] is an interesting thing,” Decker said. “I’ve never lived in a city so learning about the environment from the point of view of a city and urban setting, it’s quite interesting.”

“I’m not really good at science, but I like the environment, so I figured this would be a good fit for me,” Bair said.

In addition to the regular coursework associated with the class, community service on the side might seem like a bit much for some. But Elizabeth Wellborn, the instructor of the course, has a good reason for it.

“I believe that, as a highly industrialized and digital society, that we have become very disconnected from nature,” Wellborn said. “Green vs. Gray emphasizes hands-on learning and reconnecting with dirt, with trees, with water, with community…and finding out what it might mean to truly live sustainably.”

Bair is one of the students who has benefitted from the hands-on learning provided by the course, she said.

“I am definitely learning a lot more about the environment and I’m learning a lot of little ways I can do my part to not waste things,” Bair said. “I think the community service is going to help because teaching other people is a good way to learn yourself.”

Wellborn, who previously worked as a community planner and designer with an environmental consulting firm based in Charlottesville, Va., created the class herself.

“I helped put together this course as one course in a city greening series. The other [course in the series] that professor Eva Monheim and I hope to launch in the next few years centers on food systems,” Wellborn said. “I like to call environmental community service ‘stewardship,’ as I think we all have a responsibility to care for and manage landscapes and the environment.”

Wellborn said she has several students that took her course and are still actively involved in green community service.

“The course material and hands-on approach in Green vs. Gray combines my interests in biology, geology, soils science, landscape architecture, planning and environmental activism,” Wellborn said. “Although the course just recently became official, it is full of informative material about the environment, which affects our daily lives.”

Rebecca Zoll can be reached at

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