“We do not notice environmental problems if we do not experience them,” says Associate Professor of Politics and Government Katharine Owens. With that in mind, she created a “Marine Debris: Policy and Action” class in the University of Hartford’s College of Arts and Sciences. She wanted students to gain first-hand knowledge about the environment and then use their research to help solve any problems they uncovered.
This spring, Owens and 35 students spent several weekends picking up garbage along the Connecticut shoreline. When they were finished, they had collected 1,600 items of trash from Bluff Point State Park in Groton and Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. After collecting the trash, the students had to clean, categorize, and measure the items for a report on marine debris that they plan present to the Connecticut General Assembly Environmental Committee at the State Capitol.
Owens says the students were shocked by the amount of trash, most of which was everyday items such as plastic bags and sunglasses. She found that students got a real sense of how people contribute to environmental problems in their everyday lives by leaving trash behind.
Not only did the students learn about environmental impacts, but they actually made a change. Picking up the trash, the students cleaned local beaches and improved water quality. They also prevented birds from becoming trapped in debris.
“I hope they take away this feeling that they can solve environmental problems,” says Owens.
(The course was made possible by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)