Oglethorpe University and the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, located just miles from campus, has inked a partnership to formalize and expand their decade-long relationship.
Since 2007, Oglethorpe University faculty, staff, and students have volunteered, conducted research, and interned at the preserve. OU faculty members, including biology professor Dr. Charles Baube, have been active in Blue Heron’s programs and day-to-day operation since 2001. Dr. Baube currently serves as vice president and treasurer of the preserve’s Board of Directors.
“The [informal] partnership started as a spin-off of a water quality event I was coordinating with various city groups we called “The River Rendezvous,” explained Dr. Baube. Oglethorpe hosted the annual event, which ran from 1999 to 2005 and was facilitated by numerous student volunteers.
Oglethorpe’s presence at Blue Heron includes service learning classes and Environmental Studies Program site visits led by Dr. Baube and fellow biology professor Dr. Roarke Donnelly. The classes are designed to help students gain experience in planning, execution, and presentation of science research while helping solve real community problems.
“These projects have included monitoring and examining control methods for invasive species, monitoring water quality, accessing stream flow and erosion, accessing beaver habitat, and many others,” said Dr. Baube. “We’ve also had interns working on projects such as the establishment of a native plant survey and formalization/professionalizing of our accounting system.”
Blue Heron is not only an educational partner, but also a partner in Oglethorpe’s community service initiatives. Most recently, during last fall’s Parents Weekend, volunteers created multiple nature trails, formed dams in a stream to change the direction of water flow, and photographed species to help classify them. One of Dr. Baube’s classes helped to plan the volunteer projects.
The positive effects of OU’s volunteer efforts underscored that the time was right for Oglethorpe and Blue Heron to expand and deepen their association. The first step of the partnership was designating the preserve as “an Oglethorpe University Urban Field Station,” which formalizes Blue Heron’s commitment to be the site for Oglethorpe’s research, volunteerism, teaching, and learning in a way consistent with Oglethorpe’s mission and commitment to community involvement.
Future plans include designating an OU faculty member as the program director for OU’s activities at Blue Heron, and developing more opportunities for OU students to volunteer, engage, and learn onsite.
“We now have an OU work-study student working two to three days a week at [Blue Heron] helping coordinate all programs, not just those involving OU,” said Dr. Baube.
And there are also plans to expand that hands-on “experiential learning” beyond the sciences to include work-study and internship opportunities in marketing, the arts, accounting, and education.