2012 Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellows

Katherine McComas, Department of Communications

Katherine McComas’ project, Community Engagement in Environmental Decision Making: An Enhanced Service Learning Experience, is designed to inspire others to investigate ways to enhance the effectiveness of community engagement related to local land use and planning. McComas believes community engagement is an essential part of environmental decision making yet also one of the most challenging. Done well and it can result in healthier communities that profit from solid, trusting relationships among community members, scientific experts, and public officials. Done poorly and the resulting damage can last for years. Her proposal will enhance and institutionalize a service-learning component of a course that McComas currently teaches in the Department of Communication; “Community Engagement in Environmental Decision Making” (COMM 4560). This course fits well with the service learning priorities of Cornell University and the spirit of the Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellowship in its aims to integrate student learning with community needs and increase both the motivation and capacity of students and community members to address local environmental problems.

Elizabeth Stilwell, Department of Human Development

Elizabeth Stilwell’s project, It’s Only Natural: Cornell students connecting children to nature and outdoor play, will assist in the creation of a hand-on Nature Play Zone. In partnership with the Ithaca Children’s Garden, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Earth Play.org, it will be a place in the heart of the city where children of all ages and abilities will be free to explore, experiment and connect with the natural world. Imagine the joy of children as they dig for worms, play with water and clay, create forts and hiding places, plant trees, observe wildlife, all with the help and encouragement of Cornell students in the role of specially trained facilitators. Funding through the Kaplan Family Faculty Fellowship will create multiple opportunities for student involvement including the development of a Play Worker training program for Cornell student participants, which will allow them to prepare to facilitate and support free play and experimentation in this unique environment, and ongoing opportunities for service learning and course related observation and participation.