Congratulations to Roosevelt’s May 2015 Graduates!

A warm congratulations to all Roosevelt University graduates, young and old, today as you grace the stage of RU’s beautiful Auditorium Theatre. In particular, I salute the accomplishments of our seven Sustainability Studies graduates this spring, soon to be proud alumni: Melanie Blume, Colleen Dennis, Jordan Ewbank, Ana Molledo, Kelsey Norris, Beeka Quesnell, and Jesse Williams.

Congrats to all on your achievements, hard work, and perseverance in earning your degree and, in the process, making countless positive contributions to our campus community. Best wishes for the future! I’m proud of all of you.

RU Graduation 2015

 

For more photos, check out #Roosevelt2015 on Twitter. . .

Posted in Education, Events, Roosevelt, Students, Sustainability | Comments Off

Bikes, Tweets, and Symposia on Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! Here at Roosevelt, we’ve got some great events to mark the day, which I will start with a humble but well-intentioned two-mile bike ride to my train station in Joliet for my morning commute to Chicago, in honor of #RUEarthWeek2015 (pdf). Then, after dutifully putting in a few morning hours in my office, I shall repair to the Wabash Building (425 S. Wabash Ave, downtown Chicago) for these activities:

1-2pm (WB 1317) — Join me on Twitter (@MikeBryson22) for an #RUjusticechat on the relations between campus sustainability efforts and social/environmental justice. You can chat from wherever you are in the world . . . but if you’re in my neck of the woods, stop by WB 1317 for some F2F interaction and home-made cookies!

3-5:30pm (WB 616) — Attend the 2015 SUST Student Symposium, the signature Sustainability Studies event of the semester. Learn about the research and internship projects undertaken by four of our Sustainability Studies majors this year, and enjoy great conversation as well as free refreshments aplenty, courtesy of RU’s Physical Resources Dept. Hosted by the students of my SUST 390 Sustainable Campus class, who are undertaking RU’s first-ever STARS sustainability assessment this spring.

Bike2CampusWeek 2015 Flyer_Version2

Posted in Biking, Chicago, Classes, Education, Events, Roosevelt, Students, Sustainability | Comments Off

Earth Week Events at Roosevelt

Earth Week 2015 at RU

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Writing Urban Nature: A One-Week Intensive Summer Course in Chicago, May 18-22

SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature flier 2015-04-13Still plenty of room in this new one-week-intensive summer course! Pre-session is next Wed., May 6th, at 4:3pm in Gage 218. For more detailed information on my summer intensive course, check out this Writing Urban Nature preview; and share a pdf version of the image above via email.

 

 

Posted in Chicago, Classes, Education, Faculty, Field Trips, Humanities, Literature, Parklands, Roosevelt, Students, Sustainability, Urban nature | Comments Off

Mitchell’s Food Mart — A Thriving Throwback in Joliet

This essay was published as an op-ed piece entitle “Mitchell’s Still Has Magic for Me” in the Joliet Herald-News, p14, on 30 December 2010. I offer it here five years later as a commentary on supporting local economies and celebrating the unique small businesses in our home towns. Gladly, business is still good!

Normally I utterly detest shopping. But a few days before Christmas when my wife noted we were running low on some staple food items, I seized the opportunity with gusto: “Great, honey! I’ll run to Mitchell’s.”

Mitchell's signA small, nondescript building with a friendly 1960s-vintage lighted sign, Mitchell’s Food Mart on Raynor Avenue in Joliet is the epitome of the small neighborhood grocery store, one run by the same family since opening sixty years ago.

Walking inside is like a journey back in time. Customers carefully guide half-size shopping carts down four or five narrow aisles packed full with meticulously arranged inventory. Each item features a little orange price tag that has been applied by hand (no UPC scanning here). The one register for checkout features a friendly and efficient employee who actually knows how to bag groceries and make proper change, both of which are lost arts.

Mitchell's street viewThe utterly delightful candy section, strategically placed alongside the checkout line, reminds me of every corner drugstore’s sweets aisle from my childhood days. It’s got a little bit of everything, much of which (in keeping with the store’s small-is-beautiful theme) is available in minute quantities. My two girls go gaga picking out five-cent Tootsies as rewards for being cooperative sidekicks.

The heart and soul of Mitchell’s, though, is the butcher counter in the back, a supremely wonderful meat-eater’s paradise (vegetarians stop reading now). The first thing I do here is grab a number, because Mitchell’s has the wisdom to use this time-honored system that is sadly neglected at most supermarket delis.

Above the lunchmeat slicers are posted the current won-loss records of Chicago’s sports teams, adjusted seasonally and updated daily. I always check the scores, then pause to regard the squadron of white-aproned butchers expertly plying their trade behind the counter, a sight I find endlessly fascinating.

Here in the queue is where one best experiences the singular magic of Mitchell’s. As folks stand waiting for their portions of hand-cut bacon or tender rump roast to be wrapped up in neat white paper, they inevitably start chatting. Time and again, I’ve had wonderfully entertaining conversations there with total strangers, or mini-reunions with old acquaintances.

From the outside, it’s hard to imagine how a small-scale operation like Mitchell’s survives, even thrives, in this era of cavernous supermarkets with their national supply-chain economics and over-the-top product selection.

But from the inside, it’s easy to see how.

Posted in Community, Economics, Family, Food, Joliet | Comments Off

Interdisciplinarity, Sustainability, & Service Learning

A little while back, I was asked by some of my environmental studies colleagues outside of RU to briefly describe my take on interdisciplinary scholarship in under 200 words. Here’s what I came up with:

An interdisciplinary scholar can speak different disciplinary languages, recognize how they work together, and use that facility to say something unique in the process. Interdisciplinary scholarship is about integration: fitting things together in a complementary, cohesive, creative fashion so that the whole is niftier than the mere sum of its parts. I’ve sung in choirs where men and women blend the different pitches and timbres of their voices in 4, 6, even 8 part harmony. At its best, interdisciplinary work is like that: creating beautiful music from difference, even the occasional dissonance, such as in the give-and-take dialogue of interdisciplinary team-teaching. While most university landscapes remain dominated by disciplinary silos, interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship open up new ground for discovery and connect faculty and students working on problems of mutual interest. 

The last few years I’ve taught in and directed the Sustainability Studies program here at Roosevelt, the curriculum for which was designed in a consciously interdisciplinary fashion to integrate methods and insights from the natural and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. My own academic background in biology and literature, as well as my many years of working within a multidisciplinary faculty teaching general education to returning adult students in RU’s College of Professional Studies, means I have keen interest in integrating knowledge and research methods from the humanities and natural sciences — something that is an excellent fit within the inherently interdisciplinary endeavors of environmental studies and the newly emerging sustainability studies. In a previous post, I reflect on the relevance/importance of the arts and humanities to matters of environmental science and policy.

Another thought is that service learning provides a powerful vehicle for interdisciplinary teaching and learning — both within the context of a single (potentially interdisciplinary) class as well as in the collaboration of two or more courses from different academic departments. A fascinating model for this is the Sustainable City Year Program, pioneered recently by the University of Oregon and spun off in various ways by other US colleges and universities. This is an action-oriented and sustainability-directed approach to interdisciplinary learning and scholarship that can be tailored to the particular strengths and capacities of a given university.

Posted in Education, Faculty, Humanities, Research, Roosevelt, Science, Students, Sustainability | Comments Off

Metropolitan Farms Internship for Spring/Summer 2015

Here is an announcement for unpaid internships at a new aquaponics urban farm on the West Side of Chicago, available starting in April.

Metro Farms logoMetropolitan Farms is a commercial scale urban farm that is dedicated to the growth and development of aquaponic farming in Chicago. By condensing the agricultural food chain, reducing the use of water and electricity, and converting unusables to healthy consumables as efficiently as possible, we aim to foster an agricultural revolution. They produce organic and chemical free edible plants and fish in our advanced aquaponics system, which will be distributed all over the Chicago area.

Source: Metropolitan Farms

Source: Metropolitan Farms

We are looking for two reliable, hardworking, and passionate people to help us with the beginning stages of our aquaponic planting and harvesting process.

Time Frame:

  • April-July
  • 4-6 hours per week

Requirements:

  • Experience with plant production and care preferred
  • Access to a car with a valid drivers license
  • Familiarity with aquaponics preferred
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Great work ethic
  • High attention to detail
  • Ability to work independently as well as part of a team

Compensation

  • This opportunity is an unpaid educational internship.

For more information, visit our website and our Facebook page. To apply, send an email to Ashley Luciani at alucianigarden@gmail.com with “Metropolitan Farms Internship” in the subject line. Please let her know a little about yourself, your experience with urban farming or gardening, and why you would be interested in joining this endeavor. Make sure to provide the best way to reach you.

Posted in Agriculture, Chicago, Education, Food, Internships, Students, Sustainability | Comments Off

Welcome to Roosevelt and to Chicago, Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, RU’s President-elect

Ali_Malekzadeh-200pxYesterday I attended a rare event in the history of any university: a reception honoring the formal election of new president. Faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni, and trustees gathered in the glorious space of Roosevelt’s Murray-Green Library on the 10th floor of the landmark Auditorium Building to welcome Dr. Ali Malekzadeh, Roosevelt’s sixth president, who will take over the leadership of our institution on July 1st, 2015.

One notable thing about yesterday’s reception was that four generations of RU presidents were in attendance: Chuck Middleton, our current president; Ted Gross, who led RU from 1988 to 2002, and was president when I was hired in 1996; and Rolf Weil, who presided from 1964 to 1988. Dr. Weil is very elderly now, but still with it — and it was inspiring to see him obviously enjoying the proceedings. Like him, President-elect Ali (as he kindly insisted on being called, rather than by his full name and title) is a business-oriented lifelong academic, rather than the last two presidents who came from literature and history, respectively.

I got to speak with Dr. Malekzadeh twice, albeit briefly, and found him funny, warm, articulate, charming, and friendly. He seemed very comfortable working a room and schmoozing, and perhaps that is among the many important qualities a president must have. When I identified myself simply as “Mike Bryson, Sustainability Studies,” with no other explanation, he looked at me keenly and said emphatically, “That is the future. We will talk.” I can only guess at his true feelings on the subject of sustainability and higher ed — but his response seemed to imply that on an important fundamental level, he gets it. We will see!

I wish President-elect Malekzadeh all the best in what I hope will be a long and fruitful career for him at Roosevelt as he leads us through a tremendous time of transition and, it must be noted, great financial challenges. His reputed fundraising acumen will be most welcome and is urgently needed.

Selected press articles: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and Daily Herald

Posted in Chicago, Education, Events, News, Roosevelt | Comments Off

Sustainability and Biodiversity at the Field Museum

Last Monday, as a warm 60+ degree (F) day enveloped downtown Chicago in a splendid preview of spring, my students and I hiked from Roosevelt’s Gage Building in the Loop to the lakefront, where we strolled southward to that great edifice of natural history and biodiversity, the Field Museum. Once there, we met up with Carter O’Brien, the Museum’s sustainability manager (who basically created the job over a number of years after spearheading the FMNH’s recycling program). Carter gave us a comprehensive walking tour of the museum’s grounds, community garden, and loading dock.

SUST 210 visits the FMNH with Carter O'Brien (front left), the museum's sustainability manager (aka "green guru")

SUST 210 visits the FMNH with Carter O’Brien (front left), the museum’s sustainability manager (aka “green guru”)

Along with many of staff and researchers at the FMNH, Carter has spearheaded the museum’s efforts to green its practices in energy consumption, waste management, food service, recycling, transportation, exhibit design, and gardening. Despite being an institution dedicated to studying and conserving the world’s rich trove of biodiversity, the Field Museum until recently was not at all sustainable in its own operations, an irony not lost on environmental advocates such as Carter and many of his museum colleagues. Now the FMNH is a recognized leader in transforming old buildings into sustainably-managed facilities, as it recently garnered a LEED Gold rating on its operations and maintenance from the US Green Building Council, only the 2nd existing museum building in the US to do so, and it has just received a $2 million grant to redevelop its grounds within Chicago’s famed Museum Campus in ways that enhance biodiversity, water conservation, and public education.

Carter brought us inside through the seemingly ancient (and surprisingly small) loading dock, thorough a phalanx of heavy doors, narrow passageways, and claustrophobic elevators (all part of the FM’s 19th Century charm), and to the Botany research division, one of the four major research/collections areas of the museum. There we met up with the equally ebullient Dr. Matt Von Konrat, who has many titles at the museum but is best known as an early land plant botanist (which means he studies mosses and liverworts both here and abroad) and the Head of Botanical Collections at the museum.

Dr. Matt Von Konrat in the Botany Collection at the FMNH (photo: M. Wasinka)

Dr. Matt Von Konrat in the Botany Collection at the FMNH (photo: M. Wasinka)

Dr. Von Konrat was kind enough to set up a sampling of preserved plant specimens from the Museum’s vast collection, which when arrayed on a huge wooden table represented a journey of 500 million years of land plant evolution. Many of these examples had special significance as type specimens, which are recognized as being archetypal examples of the species that are used for benchmarking certain key identifying characteristics.

Photo: M. Wasinka

Photo: M. Wasinka

One plant, a particularly tiny moss, held special significance in a recent court case about Burr Oak Cemetery scandal  in the far South Side Chicago neighborhood of Dunning. Cemetery caretakers dug up several hundred human remains and dumped them in a mass grave in order to sell additional plots in the cemetery over a several year period. The moss was part of forensic evidence analyzed by Dr. Von Konrat that proved the involvement of cemetery employees in this heinous crime. The story illustrates the profoundly important role that environmental evidence can play in forensics, and the potential value in aligning the study of botany (and sustainability) with that of criminal justice.

After both of these splendid tours, my students and I ventured forth into the public area of the museum — its exhibits, naturally! — where we inspected the notable (and LEED Gold certified) conservation exhibit, Restoring Earth, which documents FMNH efforts to conserve natural and human communities in South America as well as restore local prairie, woodland, and wetland ecosystems here in the Chicago region.

Photo: M. Wasinka

Photo: M. Wasinka

Posted in Biodiversity, Chicago, Classes, Education, Faculty, Field Trips, Green jobs, Internships, Roosevelt, Science, Students, Sustainability, Waste & Recycling, Wildlife | Comments Off

SUST 390 “Writing Urban Nature” Course Preview (Summer 2015)

RU students paddle the North Branch of the Chicago River, Fall 2013 (M. Bryson)

RU students paddle the North Branch of the Chicago River, Fall 2012 (M. Bryson)

This May 2015 one-week-intensive section of SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature is an environmental literature and writing special topics course distinguished by in-the-field explorations of various natural and urban environments. The class provides a unique immersive experience in “nature close at hand” at sites of ecological and cultural significance in the Chicago region. Strong emphasis on close observing place and people; walking and exploring landscapes and neighborhoods; and reflecting on / discussing compelling ideas, stories, and images of urban nature, broadly defined.

Sand County AlmanacAssigned readings will include selections from May Watts, Reading the Landscape of America; Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac; Joel Greenberg, Of Prairie, Woods, and Water; blogs such as City Creatures and The Nature of Cities; and other texts. The reading list will be distributed well in advance of the class so that students will have time to read ahead prior to the week’s explorations and discussions.

Daily activities will consist of field excursions to sites of interest in Chicago’s urban landscape; discussion of assigned readings; quiet time for personal reflection, journal writing, and photography; and potential service work for local environmental organizations. Students’ daily journal and photo archive will provide material for a personal/critical reflection essay (due one week after the class ends) that incorporates text and image, critically analyzes selections from the course reading list, and reflects on the student’s individual experience in the class. Collectively, the class will produce an online project (“Chicago’s Urban Nature”) as part of the SUST at RU Blog that features creative/reflective writing that reflects upon their experience and incorporates both text and image.

SUST students visit the North Park Village Nature Center, Fall 2012 (M. Bryson)

SUST students visit the North Park Village Nature Center, Fall 2012 (M. Bryson)

Potential sites we will explore include Chicago’s lakeshore parklands and public spaces, the Chicago River (on foot and/or by canoe), neighborhood parks of cultural and ecological significance, nature centers on the North and South Sides, selected urban farms within the city, and the natural and industrial lands of the Calumet Region on the far South Side. The week’s schedule is still under development, but the varied locations will give students an opportunity to explore many seldom-seen parts of the city within a unique learning context. Most of these activities will be free, though a small fee may be charged to cover certain trips (e.g., canoe trip on the Chicago River). Public transportation will be used to access most sites. Carpooling options will be discussed at the May 6 pre-session (see below).

Who Should Take this Class

SUST students working at the Eden Place Nature Center on Chicago's South Side, 2 Dec 2014 (M. Bryson)

SUST students working at the Eden Place Nature Center on Chicago’s South Side, 2 Dec 2014 (M. Bryson)

SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature is cross-listed with ENG 340 Writing Urban Nature and PLS 371 Humanities Seminar II. SUST majors can take SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature for major credit as a SUST core course, as a Relevant Elective within their major, or as a general elective. Students who have taken a previous version of SUST 390 are eligible to take this version for credit. English majors may use this as an upper-level ENG credit or as an elective course in SUST or ENG. Students in the PLS Flex-Track program may register for PLS 371 for Humanities II credit as an upper-level general education course, or take SUST 390 for elective credit.

Registration Information

  • SUST 390-X1 Writing Urban Nature — CRN 30666 / Pre-req: ENG 102 with a grade of C- or better
  • ENG 340-X1 Writing Urban Nature — CRN 30689 / Pre-req: ENG 220 with a grade of C- or better
  • PLS 371-X1 Humanities Seminar II — CRN 30690 / Pre-req: PLS 370 or concurrent; admission to Flex-Track program for adults or advisor consent

Meets May 18-22 from 10:30am to 5pm at RU’s Chicago Campus. Required pre-session on May 6 from 4:30-6pm, room TBA. Some additional work online required; final assignment due May 29.

For more information, contact Prof. Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu or 312-281-3148).

Posted in Arts, Chicago, Classes, Education, Faculty, Field Trips, Humanities, Literature, Parklands, Roosevelt, Sustainability, Urban nature | Comments Off