Twenty students from The College of New Jersey chopped branches, broke apart wind-strewn trees, and pulled invasive multiflora rose and honeysuckle at The Watershed Institute as part of their Community Engaged Learning (CEL).
First-year students engage with community partners through the CEL program with a goal of integrating service, student development and civic participation. CEL Coordinator Megan Teitelbaum said students do about eight hours of volunteer work before graduation. Most of the TCNJ students on the Watershed outing were freshmen, with a few students from upper classes.
The students axed off dead branches and chipped away bark before scattering the woody debris on the forest floor. Allison’s experiment, which is funded by a small Franklin Parker Conservation Excellence grant from the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, will gauge if the soil is improved by accelerating the decomposition of fallen trees. Ten native dogwoods, acquired from the New Jersey Tree Foundation, have been planted in the space and will be monitored to see if they grow more vigorously in the nutrient-rich habitat. The results will be compared with the growth of young trees outside of the fenced area.
Shania Welch, 19, of Newark said she enjoyed learning about plants in class as a biology major and reinforcing her studies by helping at the Watershed.
“I like to apply my learning about conservation and identification of plants,” she said. “It’s nice to get experience early on – one that will help me decide if I want to work at a watershed organization after college.”
Ana Gutierrez, 18, of Perth Amboy said she found it relaxing to work outdoors. “This is a great opportunity to learn about nature and the species that live here.”
Jan Matthew Tameka, 19, of Voorhees said he enjoyed reconnecting with nature and science. “Also, as a first-year college student, it is great to have an outlet doing physical tasks that help with the transition to college from high school.”
Senior Cori Haider, 22, of Monroe and junior Vineeth Amba, 20, of Plainsboro, are the two Bonner Community Scholars who helped facilitate, chaperone and organize this group’s CEL.
“I think this place is awesome,” said Cori. “It is cool to see the different initiatives that students can do in the community.”