SMC, IUSB tackle Earth Day together

DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College’s Honors Program and environmental science students teamed up April 20 for “Earth Day Service Day” with IndianaUniversity South Bend peers to beautify the banks of the St. Joseph River.

This collaboration is one of many being pursued by the two institutions separated by only 30 miles, according to SMC officials. Besides developing partnerships by which SMC graduates can transfer to IUSB, this shared commitment to the region’s environment could be further enhanced this fall with plans for a similar clean-up on the Michigan side of the state line.

SMC’s crew of 18, including Honors Program co-advisors Mark Pelfrey and Gary Franchy and science faculty presenters Deirdre Kurtis and Donna Courtney, enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. The idea for this collaborative celebration of the Earth and service came from conversations between Franchy and Pelfrey and IUSB Honors Program Director Dr. Neovi Karakatsanis, who welcomed participants along with IUSB Chancellor Terry Allison. Following presentations by Kurtis (Ecological Impacts of Invasive Species), Courtney (Invasive Species are a Costly Problem) and IUSB’s Deb Marr, associate professor of biology (Using Urban Landscapes to Support Biodiversity), the group got to work removing invasive plants such as honeysuckle, planting 20 eastern white pine trees and picking up trash in Veterans Memorial Park.

“We are standing on the sacred land of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi who remind us they have always lived here and will forever live here,” Karakatsanis said. “We want to make this a regular event.”

Pokagon Band Natural Resources Manager Vic Bogosian, who gave an historical overview of the river flowing through “Ribbontown,” was joined by David Ferris, Pokagon Band DNR invasive species technician from Buchanan.

“SMC students have been environmentally conscious for 50 years, since Phil Locker was a student studying ecosystems,” SMC President Dr. David Mathews said about the event.

Dr. Phillip L. Locker Jr. was a member of SMC’s 93-member first 1968 graduating class. Locker not only achieved his goal of becoming a dentist, the past president of the Alaska Dental Society practiced in Anchorage. A narrow basin of water across M-62 East opposite the Mill Pond at the base of Dailey Road was dubbed “Locker’s Pond” in SMC’s early days.

“This is a great example of public-private partnership in the way it blends the university and public space. This space feels very open to the community,” Aaron Perri, Executive Director of Venues, Parks and Arts for the City of South Bend said while planting a tree. “I played my first round of golf right about here.” The site occupied today by on-campus student apartments was Playland Park amusement park from 1925-1961 and later featured a nine-hole lighted golf course and a miniature golf course.

Other participants included Patty Fowler, Indiana Master Naturalist and Purdue Master Gardener, South Bend Venues, Parks and Arts, IUSB Sustainability Club and Sodexo Dining Services, which served lunch across the pedestrian bridge in housing’s community building.

IUSB Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Philip Iapalucci, who also helped plant, was SMC’s chief business officer from 2009-2011.

“The college has always been part of making the community a better place,” Mathews said. “SMC is proud of what our students continue to do today.”

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter community college founded in 1964. The college delivers above-average graduation/transfer rates compared to other community colleges nationally and student college-level course success that is consistently in the top 25 percent of two-year colleges nationally, according to SMC officials. SMC strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services that meet the needs of students and to serve our community. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.

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