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SOILS 404 educates Philadelphia students about SOILS!

Posted: April 25, 2018

Dr. Patrick Drohan and Dr. Heather Gall received a grant (the Harbaugh faculty scholar award) from the College of Agriculture at Penn State to collaborate on urban green infrastructure education via their classes. As part of this grant's activities, Dr. Drohan's SOILS 404 (Urban Soils) class visited Greenfield Elementary School this past week to speak to 5th graders about soil and why it matters to people in cities.

Green infrastructure design is an interdisciplinary practice. At Penn State, multiple courses teach elements of green infrastructure design, but no one course approaches the concept in its entirety. 

Given the growing field of green infrastructure design and its popularity in rethinking urban resilience in the face of pressure from growing populations, stormwater management, and climate change, Penn State could greatly enhance its student preparedness via a cooperative urban-landscape course program.

Dr. Gall and Drohan proposed an experience that integrates two of their existing courses across two semesters in two major metropolitan centers of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The courses, Design of Stormwater and Erosion Control Facilities (Biological Engineering 467, fall semesters) and Urban Soils (SOILS 404, spring semesters) present teaching case studies as a cohort.  

In support of the Harbaugh grant's activities, Dr. Drohan's SOILS 404 class traveled this week to Greenfield Elementary School this past week to speak to 5th graders about soil and why it matters to people in cities. 

Students were taught about how their lives depend on soil, the soil forming factors, and how people can prevent erosion. Students were even made soil ambassadors; a role that empowers them to go out and educate others about why soil matters to their lives. Students examined soil from around Pennsylvania, learned how to color soils like a soil scientist, and even how to create watercolor paintings with soil.

Dr. Drohan would like to thank Greenfield Elementary School teachers Ms. Aimee Dietrich and Mr. Glasheen for their help in setting up this activity, and a special thanks to John Byrnes of Penn State Extension Philadelphia for helping us make the contact with the school. If other schools are interested in having us speak to their students they can contact Dr. Drohan at pjd7@psu.edu.