Trading Turf for Prairie

Friday, February 19th, 2010
L to R: Ryan Sensenig, Alana Kenagy, Glenn Gilbert

L to R: Ryan Sensenig, Alana Kenagy, Glenn Gilbert

A small corner of the campus may soon be greener thanks to a student proposal, seeds planted in October and the care and involvement of a professor and a utilities manager.

The south corner of campus is the first glimpse that northbound drivers on Main Street get and that view will be improving as a new rolling prairie of a diversity of grasses and flowers will grow in the spring to replace the view of a flat turf grass area and community recycling bins.

“Once a prairie is established, it needs periodic mowing or burning. But it doesn’t require much maintenance in the long run,” said Ryan Sensenig, assistant professor of biology. “And a prairie will never look the same from one year to the next over the coming 20 years. It’s a dynamic, changing process.”

The idea began several years ago in Jerrell Ross Richer’s economics class as a group of students wrote a proposal for the college to save money and energy by developing more native prairie areas on campus. The college’s Environmental Stewardship Committee approved moving forward with changes on the plot behind Newcomer Center. Junior Alana Kenagy (Albany, Ore.), senior Andy Brubaker (Goshen) and junior Jake Snyder (Leland, N.C.) worked with Sensenig to give leadership to the project and recruited help from EcoPAX Club members and ecology class students to help prepare the soil and plant the seed.

“The neat part about this is the way it has connected student initiative, physical plant management and the curriculum,” Sensenig said.

A key outcome of the project has been the connections it has nurtured between students, physical plant personnel and teaching faculty.

The prairie project was expanded to include a detention pond as well, which was added after grant funding from the Elkhart River Alliance became available and got Utility Manager and Sustainability Coordinator Glenn Gilbert involved. It will to reduce excess water coming off surrounding parking lots from going into the nearby Elkhart River as quickly and cutting down on flooding, said.

One benefit of this is that “more and more water should infiltrate over time because of prairie grasses and improved permeability of the soil,” Sensenig said, noting that some areas have a high content of clay.

“By introducing the detention pond, it turned a homogeneous prairie into an area with different plants, because of the topography,” Gilbert said. As not to remove soil from the property when digging out the detention pond, a berm was built to hide the not so attractive recycling bins. “Our intention is to make it look intentional, not neglected,” Gilbert said.

The group used three prairie mixes which all included grasses and flowering plants, including a basic tallgrass prairie seed mix for the banks in the back, a swale mix for the wettest areas and a low profile mix which will cover the majority of the area and includes 30 flowering plants and shorter grasses.

As a student leader on the project, Kenagy said, “I am just really excited to see the land so transformed – shaping the land and planting a diversity of plants – to explore how it affects soil quality and other biological qualities of the area.”

Sensenig sees the way this project has connected disparate parts of campus in significant ways as an experiment in interdisciplinary learning.

“What has intrigued me about this project is that the act of participating in restoration of our landscape has forced us to re-evaluate the way we do education. How can we help students connect with the people and place around them?” he said. “To the degree that environmental problems are due to the disconnect we have in our lives, the solution has to do with how we reconnect. Restoration of our ‘place’ becomes not just a biological or technical pursuit, but a commitment to socially work in ways that are also restorative. This model of education excites me.”

– By Jodi H. Beyeler

Thanks for 138 years of service!

Thursday, October 8th, 2009
Left to right: Fern Brunner, Vic Koop, Carl Helrich, Ron Milne and Judy Wenig-Horswell

Left to right: Fern Brunner, Vic Koop, Carl Helrich, Ron Milne and Judy Wenig-Horswell

These five teaching faculty members together represent 138 years of dedicated service to the mission and the students of Goshen College:

Fern Brunner ’62 is retiring as associate professor of nursing. She has taught courses in psychiatric/mental health nursing, nursing leadership and introduction to professional nursing, and has been instrumental in shaping curriculum. Brunner joined the faculty in 1989 and served the campus community for 20 years. Send her a note at:

Carl Helrich is retiring as professor of physics. He has taught courses such as physical world, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, classical field theory and senior seminar. Helrich has also led in creating two ongoing programs: the Maple Scholars summer research program and the annual Religion and Science conference. He joined the faculty in 1985, led an SST unit in Germany and served the campus community for 24 years. Send him a note at:

Vic Koop is retiring as professor of psychology. He has taught courses such as general psychology, developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, personality theory and contemporary viewpoints. Koop joined the faculty in 1982 and served the campus community for 27 years. Send him a note at:

Ron Milne ’67 is retiring as professor of mathematics. He and his wife Reference and Instruction Librarian Sally Jo – who is also retiring after 25 years of service to the college – have led SST units in Haiti, Ivory Coast and Indonesia, and will lead one to Senegal in 2010. Milne has taught courses throughout the mathematics curriculum with a focus on students who would become elementary teachers and secondary teachers of mathematics. He was involved in the introduction of computers into the mathematics curriculum in the 1990s. Milne joined the faculty in 1976 and served the campus community for 33 years. Send him a note at:

Judy Wenig-Horswell is retiring as associate professor of art. She has taught courses in jewelry-making, drawing, design, humanities and art history, and has helped lead Arts in London for many years. She created the presidential medal worn by Goshen College presidents on special ceremonial occasions. Wenig-Horswell joined the faculty in 1975 and served the campus community for 34 years. Send her a note at:

Interpreting for Obama all in a day’s work for sign language professor

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

When then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama came to Elkhart, Ind., for a presidential campaign town hall meeting on Aug. 6, thousands of people wanted to hear his every word. But for those who couldn’t hear the candidate, Goshen College Assistant Professor of American Sign Language Julie Armstrong was able to convey the message.

For two and half hours, Armstrong “was Obama,” in the sense that the Deaf people in the audience were receiving his message primarily through her, while also being able to see the candidate. A good interpreter must be a good performer, Armstrong said. She had to portray the tone and intent of the speaker all of the time, and yet when the speaking stopped, she had to be completely neutral as well. As an interpreter, she also can’t twitch, scratch or be visibly distracting. “It is very physically fatiguing,” she said.

For Armstrong, interpreting for a presidential candidate was all in a day’s work and wasn’t about her political perspective. She has interpreted for a number of high-profile people before, including mayors and governors from both the Republican and Democratic parties. “And I would have interpreted for (U.S. Sen.) John McCain if he came too,” she said.

Armstrong holds national certification as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, is a doctoral candidate and has 15 years of experience as an interpreter. And there are very few other ASL interpreters in the region with those qualifications.

Some of Armstrong’s preparation for the event included doing Internet research on the issues she expected Sen. Obama to speak about, reading his recent speeches and watching videos of other speeches he has given. These gave her a sense of his word choices, his rhythm and his pacing when he speaks. In addition, she always listens to national news, because in this line of work – when you never know who will need an interpreter – “staying up on world knowledge is so important,” she said. “I have to be able to rattle ‘Afghanistan’ off my hands right now.”

As a professor of ASL and interpreting, Armstrong’s students benefit from her regularly using her skills in real settings. “I believe I have to be able to interpret to be able to teach interpreting,” she said. “It is important to keep a close connection with the Deaf community and to create solidarity with them. It is important for them to know I am an interpreter first and a teacher second.”

But what really motivates Armstrong in her work is meeting a significant need of an underserved community. “It is important to me to be part of providing access for the Deaf community,” she said. At the Obama town hall meeting, “Deaf people had this information presented to them in their native language in real time. And I think that’s just amazing.”

– By Jodi H. Beyeler