Environmental Service Learning and Community Partnerships: Applying Science-Based Solutions to Urban Environmental Problems

submitted by

Kara Salazar Indiana University~Purdue University Center for Earth and Environmental Science
Author Profile

Initial Publication Date: November 5, 2004

The IUPUI Center for Earth and Environmental Science utilizes local field research sites and community partners to conduct service learning with introductory earth and environmental science students.

Environmental service learning engages introductory students in environmental stewardship activities relevant to course concepts.

Strengths: Work day activities further CEES research goals, benefit community partners and public park lands, and relate course topics to ongoing research and community issues.

GSA Poster (PowerPoint 15.5MB Nov5 04)

Learning Goals

  • Watershed concepts and management techniques (link to Hypoxia in Gulf of Mexico)
  • Biogeochemistry and sediment metal transport and deposition
  • Function of riparian systems
  • Classification and function of wetlands
  • Population studies of flora (invasive exotic species vs. native plants, species vs. individuals, species diversity)
  • Population studies of fauna (birds, butterflies, dragonflies, wildlife habitat)
  • Adverse human impacts on the environment
  • Environmental restoration
  • Water quality (combined sewer overflows, benefits of riparian corridors)

Geologic Skills:
  • Conducting field research
  • Collecting data

Higher Order Thinking Skills:
  • Drawing conclusions from data
  • Connection between classroom theory and concepts and applied learning

Other Skills:
  • Scientific report writing
  • Environmental stewardship


Instructional Level:
Undergraduate entry level

Skills Needed:
  • Group instruction is tailored to introductory undergraduate earth and environmental science students with little background knowledge.
  • The work day activities are utilized as applied teaching tools for geologic and environmental concepts.

Role of Activity in a Course:
  • Stand alone
  • Students choose between the service learning project and writing a summary report, integrating course concepts to the work day activites (or)
  • Researching and writing a paper applicable to course concepts

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:
Dependent upon project activities and goals of program.

Logistical Challenges:
Logistical challenges include those associated with coordinating and facilitating large group instruction. A pre-registration process is recommended. Group activities should be sub-divided into smaller groups when appropriate to allow for increased participation levels. Outdoor safety factors and first aid should also be taken into consideration.

When working with community partners, clear goals and objectives for the partnership and work day projects are essential for a successful program. Well planned and organized partnerships, work days, and field instruction benefit all parties involved.


Evaluation Goals:
Connection made between course concepts and applied learning at project site.

Evaluation Techniques:
Course evaluations


CEES coordinates and facilitates an environmental service learning program for IUPUI undergraduate students in introductory science courses each spring and fall semester. The service learning work days are predominately conducted at CEES research sites throughout central Indiana in conjunction with community partners. Work day activities involve restoring wetland and floodplain ecosystems and combating nonpoint source pollution through agricultural field tile removal, native plant installation, invasive exotic plant species eradication, and hill slope stabilization. Working on these projects provides the students with an opportunity to directly experience many of the topics discussed in their courses as well as to observe how communities can work together to solve environmental problems.