December dinner event to celebrate Discovering PLACE accomplishments

Faculty members of UM-Flint involved in K-12 education are invited to a Discovering PLACE celebration dinner, to be held 5-7 p.m. Dec. 14, 2011 at the Harding Mott University Center. Registration starts at 5 p.m., and the event kicks off with a 5:30 p.m. hors d’oeuvre reception in the University Center lobby, followed by a 6 p.m. buffet dinner by Fandangles’ , served in the Happenings Room.

What are we celebrating? An outstanding group of Flint-area teachers and community partners who have been working with Discovering PLACE, a University Outreach program that launched in 2009.

This year, the group helped local students learn through several hands-on projects that involved growing their own food, creating an outdoor trail and removing an invasive species to preserve a pond. In the process, students developed a sense of stewardship.

Local schools face a host of demands, making it especially challenging to carry out projects that exceed everyday curriculum requirements. These tasks also require the backing of school administrators and organizations such as the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative and the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, which support the efforts of Discovering PLACE.

Dr. Don Hammond, a Beecher High School science teacher involved in the projects, was recently named one of 20 Chevrolet GREEN Educators in the nation. Nominated by representatives of Earth Force, Hammond drew media attention when GM staff awarded him the use of a Chevy Volt for his classroom to study.

The Dec. 14 event is also a rare opportunity to hear Matthew Washington, Executive Director at the Friends of the High School for Environmental Studies in New York. Along with addressing diversity in the environmental field, Washington will bring firsthand insights on the benefits of exposing students to a range of settings.

“People talk about diversity, and that’s typically associated with race or gender,” said Washington. “Certainly racial diversity is important, but diversity of the mind is also important, a diversity of experiences.”

Matthew Washington

While most of Washington’s childhood was set among the concrete structures of New York City, he grew comfortable outdoors during trips to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Washington was one of the early graduates of the High School for Environmental Studies, one of the first schools of its kind in the country. Later, he served as a mentor for the school’s Friends program. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Alfred University in Comparative Cultures, with a concentration in Cultural Anthropology, Washington became heavily entrenched in the area by serving on community boards.

Before being named Executive Director of the Friends, Washington served as Deputy Director of the Friends of Hudson River Park, a group that transformed an old pier into a flourishing public park. Washington is also part of an effort to create an open-air market in Harlem.

Childhood exposure to diverse settings can be life changing. For Washington, it impacted his career choice. Washington sees a profound effect in others too, including the students of the High School for Environmental Studies who participate in the school’s extended outdoor trips. The students has been so affected by the experience that it became part of each student’s college admission essay.

Tickets for the celebration dinner are free but limited. If you have an interest in the Discovering PLACE program and would like to attend, please RSVP by Dec. 9 to Barb Urlaub at urlaubb@umflint.edu or (810) 424-5486.