Ari's SUST Elective #1: Wilderness

My favorite elective that I took for the Sustainability Dual Major was RMP 511: Issues of Wilderness and Nature in American Society, with Sean McLaughlin. In fact, this was one of my favorite classes that I’ve ever taken at UNH. This course provided an overview of wilderness protection in the United States, highlighting major events and people like Teddy Roosevelt and the Hetch Hetchy dam, Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. We also learned about how wilderness can be made more accessible to all members of society, which relates to the social aspect of sustainability. In addition, we had interesting presentations from guest speakers who had been to many different parts of the US; one student spoke to us about a long bike trip he took through the wilderness, and another speaker discussed his visits to national parks and recommendations he had as a result.     

This elective stands out to me because of Sean’s energy and enthusiasm for the topics. He focused on having us enjoy learning and comprehending the material, and allowed us to engage with it in short writing assignments and in-class review. This class was about enjoying learning for the sake of it instead of memorizing specific dates for an exam, only to forget them the next day. I found that I recalled much more after learning in this style, and I still remember many of the topics that we discussed because of the way he presented the material.

One major takeaway from this elective was my recognition of the beauty and uniqueness of the natural world around us. Sean brought us outside frequently and encouraged us to put away our cell phones, be creative, and observe the environment we were in. One activity included coming up with playground games using natural elements like sticks, rocks, and leaves and collaborating as a team to create the best game possible. We also played large group games like rock paper scissors, and everyone seemed happy to be there. This reminded me of the idea of social cohesion that we talked about in SUST 401. Even though I didn’t get to know a lot of students in the class because it was a large lecture, we were still able to engage with each other and have fun when we went outdoors.

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College Woods

Another part of Wilderness that I enjoyed was when Sean brought us to College Woods and told us to find a quiet place by ourselves and produce something creative, like a piece of writing or artwork. His one rule was that we couldn’t use our phones. Being able to take time out of my busy day to sit by myself in nature and reflect on my day and my life is something that I rarely, if ever, get to experience. This time away from my phone was freeing and allowed me to focus completely on the moment I was in. As I was walking through the woods, I saw kids romping through the leaves with their parents, and it really reminded me why environmental sustainability is so important. These spaces need to be preserved so that experiences like this can still be possible for future generations. This also connects to the ideas of economic and social sustainability – leaving these places untouched may mean losing out on financial opportunities, but making them accessible to anyone who wants to visit them may bring people back to nature and even help them reach a better mental space.

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College Woods pond

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College Woods dam