Austin Peay Has New Outdoor Space For Classroom Discussions, Community Fellowship
(Posted on Thursday, August 26, 2021)
Alexandra Wills, director of the Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement at Austin Peay State University, is building the university’s first outdoor classroom in Austin Peay’s backyard. A handful of nature trails converge behind the Dunn Center and lead to the Outdoor Education Center.
“We have a new resource on campus that honors outdoor learning,” said Wills. “This outdoor education center is a collaboration between the Center for Service and Community Engagement Learning, the Sustainability Office and great support from landscapers to help us make this a reality. ”
After a sugar maple fell in a storm near the campus community gardens, also managed by Wills, a natural amphitheater has been revealed, descending in all directions to a central point. This is where Wills and his student volunteers built a 20ft by 12ft stage. They also added two long benches, with two more under construction, which face the stage.
“A part of me was torn for letting this place be,” Wills said. “This field had a lot of potential. When the sugar maple fell and the space opened up, I saw an opportunity.
Sustainability efforts add special touches to the center
Wills and his team are using fallen trees on campus as mulch to form the base of the many native wildflowers they plan to plant in the center, including milkweed plants that will attract monarch butterflies.
“We are in durable solutions,” she said. “Some of the wood chips were from the ash in front of Ellington that they felled. We try to keep him in the family, so to speak.
The plans also include an observation rock and a waterfall.
“There will be a water feature here for pollinators to get water and potential action from amphibians,” Wills said.
Around the perimeter of the center, the team planted evergreen trees, which Wills affectionately calls “nature’s wallpaper.”
A peaceful place for class discussions, fellowship
The space is surrounded by houses. Wills wants to respect the sanctity of his space.
“It was a very quiet wooded area, and we embrace the flow of land and keep that area quiet for all the neighbors while using the space a little differently than it has been,” she said. .
Wills is planning an open house in October when the weather cools.
“I imagine a beautiful fall afternoon with the leaves changing and it’s nice and cool,” she said. “I think it will be useful. I want it to be some kind of peaceful place where the classes can come and have a great chat, enjoy being outside and enjoy the camaraderie together outside in nature.
A faculty member has already booked the center to teach a class on empathy.
“They actually use a number of those flower beds and they’ll have classes here as well,” Wills said.
A place for student growth, community learning
Wills couldn’t do it on her own. She has worked alongside campus landscapers and her team of dedicated student volunteers.
“Our hardworking students are learning to build things that will be here on campus for a while,” Wills said. “So this is a very good opportunity for them.”
The place will allow students to immerse themselves in nature while learning. It will also be a place of community involvement.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to come and enjoy some peace and quiet in a more natural setting,” said Wills. “It’s also an opportunity for the community to come and learn from the expertise we have on campus on environmental topics. We have ornithology experts, native plant experts and beekeepers, and all of those things that the community can benefit from.
If you would like to help Wills, contact her at [email protected] or visit the Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement website at www.apsu.edu/volunteer/.