– Campus Environmental Research Program (CHERP) began as an idea: an environmental science class that would take place in nature and help students learn about ecology.
PHOTO: Students gather before beginning the prairie restoration work. Left to right:  Jay Fish, adjunct instructor; Joanne Lee, sophomore, cello performance major; Derion Tabb, junior, communications; Brian Carpenter, junior, secondary education in foreign languages; Elise Park, junior, interdisciplinary studies; Lindsay Meyer, sophomore, economics; Nathan Watson, freshman, English; Ryan Barton, sophomore, information systems; John-Mark Scott, sophomore, accounting; Alyssa Wagner, senior, elementary education; Lea Walker, sophomore, business management. Photo by Anya Glushko for The Current 2014 ©


By Anya Glushko, Staff Writer for The Current

Campus Environmental Research Program (CHERP) began as an idea: an environmental science class that would take place in nature and help students learn about ecology. About five years ago, Dean of the Honors College Robert Bliss and Curators Teaching Professor of Biology Charles Granger established a partnership between UMSL and the St. Vincent Park, allowing CHERP courses to use the park for scientific exploration to help it move toward restoring native Missouri natural habitats. In 2009, a series of three Urban Ecology courses was launched as a part of CHERP.

“We use project-based learning and service-learning, as well as classroom discussion, to teach science inquiry and literacy; ecological literacy; and environmental ethics. Our goal is to prepare students to be active citizens and engaged throughout their lives enjoying nature and outdoor adventures; caring for the environment; and working to bring an emerging Ecological Civilization: thriving people, thriving human communities, flourishing nature, and flourishing aesthetic, moral, spiritual, experiential life,” said Urban Ecology instructor James Fish.

One of CHERP’s goals is to engage the UMSL community in service-learning by doing projects such as restoration of native environments like wilderness and plants, in order to improve parts of the south campus and St. Vincent Park. These efforts can make UMSL into a leading green institution in St. Louis and the region as part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Change Commitment. “…Students can start to see their place within an environment and identify ways they can personally contribute and plan for future needs. Each student passing through [UMSL] is a global participant, a decision-maker, a voter, a policy-generator and a citizen making personal choices… We want students to embrace the science, not fear it, and think ecologically, no matter their major or life path,” Urban Ecology lecturer Jennifer Fruend said.

“We intentionally seek to prepare active citizens for the 21st century. Democracy is much more than voting; conservationists in the 21st century will be working with/in businesses, voluntary associations, and civil society to solve some very big environmental issues,” Fish said.

“As a communications major, I am very aware that communication is the key component to any relationship. Understanding the natural environment around us and how we communicate with it, and how it communicates with us, will inevitably improve our relationship,” Alyssa Wagner, senior, elementary education, said.

The expanded course offerings are geared to fulfill the needs of traditional Honors College undergraduate students, upper division biology students, ecology area graduate teachers, and environmental activists in the Missouri Stream Team movement and other conservation organizations. The first course, Great Rivers Ecology, will be offered this summer. Students will study the basics of river and stream ecology during six weeks of online learning. Then they will meet in Louisiana, Missouri for a four-day float trip down the Mississippi River. They will be also conducting ecological labs and observations of water quality, stream biology, fish studies, birding, river flow, geomorphology, and conservation. The class will camp out on river islands in a back country camp.

“Like rivermen and riverwomen of old, we’ll tell stories around the campfire. And like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher, we’ll have a great adventure on a great river learning how the ‘Father of Waters’ courses through our land and lives,” Fish said.

Urban Ecology provides opportunities for students to get involved in re-wilding portions of campus and restoring native Missouri plants in St. Louis. Students participate in Missouri Stream Team and have monitored Engelholm Stream health for 5 years; the collected data is part of a statewide database. Students are also restoring a one-acre prairie garden and tackle other natural area restoration projects in St. Vincent Park, on UMSL’s south campus, and along Great Rivers Greenway’s bike paths.

“It’s a fun course for anyone who wants to know more about nature and get their hands and their minds involved in learning. For some students, getting involved in an Urban Ecology course helps them establish a pathway to a green career,” Fish said.

Students can make conservation-related proposals that can develop into larger-scale projects such as prairie rehabs, woodland rehabs, or landscaping innovation.

“I started taking this class because I just needed to fill my science requirement, but Urban Ecology’s actually more fascinating that I originally thought. The little field trips we take are awesome and it’s so rewarding to be able to actually help and restore the ecosystem around us by doing physical work and really getting in touch with nature,” Lea Walker, sophomore, business administration, said.

Students in Urban Ecology courses have planted gardens, cleared out invasive plants, and engaged in litter-pick-ups.

“For me, studying ecology in an urban setting has magnified the effect my habits have on the environment, prompting me to be more thoughtful with our resources,” Elise Park, junior, interdisciplinary studies, said.

© The Current 2014