New student-led course makes use of Storch community garden

Since the opening of the Storch community garden in 2011, students and professors have been trying to create a course to ensure the maintenance of the garden and, this semester, that goal has been achieved. Biology Special Topics 2191, Introduction to Gardening in South Texas, is a student-led course aimed at teaching the basics of gardening through hands-on experience and work in the lab.

A group of four students advised by Kelly Lyons, professor of biology, put together and will teach the course for one credit hour to 12 other students. Laura Prentice, senior environmental studies and religion major, led the way in creating the course after becoming interested in the garden through Students Organization for Sustainability.

“We started planning the syllabus by brainstorming what we wanted to learn and what are the basics we have to start from. Soil: that’s probably the most important thing to learn about in a garden, so that was our first lecture last Wednesday,” Prentice said.

The course meets once a week on Wednesdays and will switch off between days in the classroom or laboratory and days in the garden. Rather than buying seedlings to plant right away, the students are growing all the plants from seeds in professor Lyons’s laboratory. Currently growing in the garden are winter vegetables such as lettuce, kale, carrots, peas, radishes and various herbs.

This course is a unique learning and teaching experience for the students involved.

“I wouldn’t call it a class; it’s more of a graduate seminar, where it’s student-centered and student-interest-driven. It’s mostly about experiential learning. What more could a professor ask for””students to design their own course and learn what they want to? They’re teaching each other and learning together,” Lyons said.

In addition to working in the lab and the garden, students have lined up several guest lecturers to present to the class.

“We have already set up a schedule that is exciting, and we have plans for speakers to come and teach us about their expertise ranging from grafting to herbal medicinal plants. I have high hopes for this class, and can’t wait to teach what I know and learn more about what I don’t know,” said Cassandra Alvarado, a first year and one of the student teachers.

The goal of the course is to engage students with gardening and ties into the overarching goal of the Storch community garden to build sustainability and green spaces.

“It’s going to be a great utilization of a space on Trinity’s campus that has been under-utilized in the past,” Lyons said.

Prentice, Alvarado and two other students, first years John Morgan and Laura Wilson, came together to build a course and they want all students to know this is possible with the help of a faculty advisor.

“If you want to teach a course about something that is not offered and you know a lot about it, just go for it,” Prentice said.