Renewable Environment: Transforming Urban Neighborhoods

Steven Bachofer and Phylis Cancilla Martinelli, St. Mary's College, Moraga, California


This SENCER model uses the complex civic problem of reclaiming a Superfund site in an urban area (an abandoned military base in Alemeda, California) as the focus of a learning community. A federal mandate requires that such sites negotiate with Homeless Service Providers (HSP's) to explore their potential as a source of new housing. As a result, such sites present real and immediate civic challenges that demand both scientific knowledge and a broader understanding of how environmental science is bound up with ethics, history, culture, politics, and economics.

The learning community consists of two integrated courses: Urban Environmental Issues, a general-education science course with a laboratory component, and Urban Studies, a 100-level course in Anthropology/Sociology. The science content covered includes the fundamentals of toxicology and environmental risk assessment, reaction chemistry, soil and air chemistry and analysis, spectroscopic method, and other quantification tools related to chemistry, In the sociological component of the course students examine environmental risk in a social and economic context by exploring the community's history and attitudes, including its educational and recreational patterns and its racial and economic composition. Site visits, interviews, document and archival research, and presentations to the community bolster information-gathering and communication skills as they help students place their scientific learning in a broader context.

This model features a range of innovative pedagogies. It is explicitly inter- and multidisciplinary and is team taught by a Chemist and a Sociologist. It is both field- and problem-based and involves collaborations with community leaders, government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, non-profit entities like the Alemeda Point Collaborative (a homeless service provider), as well as other St. Mary's faculty who share their expertise. In the most recent iteration, two upper division students, an environmental science major and a sociology major, have been recruited as preceptors for the learning community, serving as co-instructors and field assistants. Among the notable course outcomes has been the presentation of student research at an undergraduate sociology symposium, the ongoing engagement of students with the work of the Alemeda Point Collaborative, and the adoption of the Superfund site as the focus of class projects in other courses.

Alameda Point

Learning Goals

Learning Objectives (Acrobat (PDF) 84kB Jul3 08) of the RETUrn Learning Community linked to public policies and Civic Engagement

RAB Newsletter (Acrobat (PDF) 171kB Jul3 08)

      Next Page »