Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in SRQ Magazine, April 13, 2019
By Donal O’Shea
April brings us two days, Earth Day on the 22nd and Arbor Day on the 26th, that focus on the importance of protecting and sustaining our natural environment. This year we will mark Arbor Day with a celebration involving students and the broader Sarasota community that will showcase our commitment to tree preservation on campus.
We are proud of our beautiful 110-acre campus that overlooks Sarasota Bay and provides a home to approximately 150 species of trees and scores of other plants. Many of these species predate the development of our own species, homo sapiens. As stewards of the land and the adjoining bayfront, we take very seriously our commitment to creating and sustaining outdoor spaces that allow different species to thrive, and that provide natural learning laboratories for our students and faculty and aesthetic appeal for all visitors to our campus.
This year, the Arbor Day Foundation honored our commitment to urban forest management with 2018 TreeCampus USA recognition. Receiving this designation required meeting the organization’s stringent standards for the development and support of a campuswide tree care plan that engaged students, professors and professional staff.
New College is currently in the first year of a three-year, $294,198 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the best methods for restoring mangrove habitat on nearby Tidy Island. Biology Professors Brad Oberle and Jayne Gardiner are leading this research project to determine the best way to dispose of wood from invasive plants in this natural habitat.
Earlier this month, New College joined the EcoLeague, a consortium of six liberal arts colleges located in very different bioregions across the U.S. that are dedicated to ecologically focused education and to modeling sustainability through operations and facilities. New College will welcome exchange students to our campus to learn about Florida’s subtropical region and our students will have similar opportunities in coastal Maine, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and the Great Lakes region in Wisconsin. These opportunities are essential for students who will live and work in a global, diverse, and highly interconnected world. Among the interconnections are those among our communities, our local natural and built environments, and the health of our planet.
Colleges in the EcoLeague consortium established environmental programs in the 1970s. New College created our environmental studies program in 1974 and opened the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center in 2001. Both programs have extended their academic reach and community connections over more than four decades and are a point of pride for our school and the broader region. For nearly two decades, the Pritzker Center has been the home of a summer science program for area middle schools, exposing hundreds of students to the excitement of STEM fields.
Today’s students will be the ones who will most urgently encounter the consequences of the heedlessness with which we have treated the planet that sustains us. I am proud to say that at New College sustainability is a core value, and that students, regardless of their majors, are working together to make sure that what we do here is responsible and appropriate to ensuring a healthy environment for now and forever.
— Donal O’Shea is president of New College of Florida.