UR students enjoy the eco-corridor
First-year students Nora Anderson (left) and Kira Miller (right) plant pollinators in a hollowed log in the new micro-park.

'You see your idea come to life'

January 1, 2024


When exploring ideas for her first-year seminar, Avery Coke felt drawn to one that involved sketching, journaling, and creating a small park space on the Eco-Corridor, the University’s 18-acre multi-use trail.

“I really liked how some of it is outside the classroom,” Coke said. “Being out in nature is one of my priorities.”

English professor Elizabeth Outka and art & art history professor Erling Sjovold co-taught the multidisciplinary seminar, Sensing Place: Art, Literature, and the Environment, last semester. The class helped students imagine a micro-park, work through the nuts and bolts of creating it with a group, write a proposal, and then build the project.

On the first day of class, the professors gave each of the students colored drawing pencils and a sketchbook that they would use every day. By the second meeting, they were hitting the nature trail, getting to know the area, and drawing sketches of the plants and wildlife.

From left to right, students Tyeon Ford, Ervonicca Smith, and Jasmine Lin relax in the new micro-park they helped create. "It's far off from the path, so you don't have to be disturbed by people walking by," Ford said.

Soon, they were imagining what could go in the new park, a shady spot near the outdoor classroom.

Students read literary works such as Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower and then responded in their sketchbooks with mind maps — visual diagrams that helped them better understand a passage.

“It was a way to get them to think about different mediums for describing a place,” said Outka, the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities.

Using these literary tools, they wrote a detailed description of an Eco-Corridor area that they had been drawing.

The students learned to work in groups and pitched their proposals to administrators from the Sustainability offices and Provost Joan Saab. Their proposals included diagrams of the parks, drawn to scale, and collages. Feedback led to some changes in the designs.

Most of the class writing centered on creating proposals for the micro-park, including team writing and individual research sections. Once a final design was selected, the teams also went through an extensive approval process, with help from Cary Jamieson, Natural Areas Steward for Sustainability, and others.

Coke had to get out of her comfort zone to help her team pitch their idea. “I've always had presentational anxiety. So, I thought that was a good thing to work through in this class.”

In the end, the winning Eco-Corridor plan was a culmination of all four plans, creating a mini bluebird sanctuary that also serves as a relaxing spot and a pollinator garden. The 6x14-foot park has a QR code for visitors to learn more about the area wildlife.

At the installation, Coke helped put together Adirondack chairs for the park. Other students planted pollinator friendly plants in hollow logs. Coke helped demonstrate the bluebird house, which has predator guards and hidden plexiglass panels that allow visitors to watch nest building and eggs hatching.

This class offered new lessons unlike others she's taken so far. “You see your idea come to life,” Coke said.