By Danielle Steele
In May and June of 2015, Earlham faculty Danielle Steele and Alexia Springer led the Bike Indiana May Term for eight Earlham students. Students included: AJ Tiedemann, Leila Jacobson, Lucas Barber, David Masterson, Daniel Vargas, Mandisa Marks, Taylor Boucher, and Olga Galperin. Faculty and students spent a total of six days on campus, doing physical and mechanical training as well as place-based education for four weekends during the semester as well as just prior to the trip itself. The group biked through Central, Northern and Western Indiana for a period of eighteen consecutive days, camping at a new location each day, biking a total greater than 600 miles in fewer than three weeks. A detailed route is available for perusal.
The course focused on sustainability as it relates specifically to Indiana’s environment and culture through an immersive eco-tourism experience. Study topics during the ride focused on sustainability in three forms: places that need sustaining (be those natural or historical/architectural), cultures that need sustaining (from indigenous to Amish to “Indiana” and “Midwestern” culture as seen through the eyes of native Indiana residents) and the people/places that foster sustainable energy and living practices (small family farms, environmental centers, initiatives such as community pollinator gardens and bee hives). One of Earlham’s primary missions is to create mindful global citizens, so sustainability was a natural topic to select when designing this course. The hope was that by drawing students to Indiana through a subject about which Earlham students are already passionate instructors could foster the sense of community and connection that would help students see Indiana as a not simply a stopover during their education but a home, a culture worth being a part of, and a place in which they could see themselves living and being a part of improving.
The project helped Earlham students connect with Indiana businesses in several ways: by being able to fund the May Term through the Indiana Pathways grant, faculty were able to make the program as well as the required materials (one of which was rental of a road bike), available and free to all students. Therefore, the appeal of the program was broader than had it been prohibitively expensive. For international students, this was especially helpful. Indiana Pathways funding allowed faculty to set up multiple private experiences for students. Examples include touring RDM Shrimp and Aquaculture Farm in Wheatfield, Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Traders Point Creamery in Zionsville, Conner Prairie in Fishers, Opalescent Glass Factory in Kokomo, Victory Acres Farm and CSA in Upland, and Round Barn Theater and Amish Acres in Nappanee. Organizations extended us special privileges and discounts and we were able to have intimate, meaningful experiences every place we visited. We were able to provide our students with far more immersive experiences, such as tours of facilities and experiences with local arts and food scenes that would have otherwise been unaffordable for them or available to only a select few.
With four orientation meetings in the semester leading up to the trip, we were able to learn about students’ interests and career goals and tailor the trip to them. Learning opportunities for students
included presentations from guest speakers, tours of organic and conventional farms (livestock and crop), wind farms, historic places and state parks. They also explored several unique Indiana towns, including Goshen, Chesterton, Zionsville, Indianapolis and Lafayette. Each day of the course, students connected with local business owners, educators, charity workers, extension agents, farmers, artists, and community organizers. Assignments were the form of place-based education, group discussion, reflective papers and readings. A reading guide is available upon request.
A few specific examples of students connecting with Indiana and Indiana employers include:
Time spent at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Albion, where a graduate program in sustainability is offered. We now have one student returning to obtain her master’s degree from this institution.
Dinner with the Catholic Worker organizers in South Bend, learning about their communal living space and intentional community and their mission of helping disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations gain employment. Multiple students of ours are now interested in spending time with the Catholic Worker organization.
Two days spent volunteering at Valentine Hill Farm in Zionsville, Indiana. Through applying for an internship on this farm, one of our students hopes to return to gain more knowledge about sustainable farming and farm-to-table initiatives in Central Indiana.
Talback session with Jim Poyser, learning about his Climate Camp and beginning discussions for volunteerism and potential attendance/collaboration for spring of 2016.
The relationships formed as a result of this trip were invaluable. Earlham’s focus on sustainability is a draw for nearly every one of its students. To be able to give them such an immersive experience and introduce them to so many people and organizations in Indiana led to them feeling a deeper sense of connection with Indiana as a real and relevant place in their lives. No longer is Richmond, Indiana and Earlham College a self-contained bubble in which they can have their isolated college experience. Instead, they see Earlham’s broad connection to Indiana. This came in the form of our tours and activites as well as meeting the multiple alumni in Indiana (such as the Catholic Workers in both South Bend and Indiana, the alumna responsible for planning Syracuse and Webster’s bike routes, the parents of a current Earlham student who farm and supply food to a local pantry, and taking a tour of Conner Prairie). Connecting students with other Earlham alumni in Indiana strengthened the feeling of connection students felt to both the college and the state.
The course was more successful than expected, not only because of the students’ increased awareness of employment possibilities in Indiana but with the increased sense of connection they felt to Indiana as a unique and vibrant place in which they could see themselves contributing in a meaningful, long-lasting and impactful way. Through the connections made on this trip, subsequent May Terms will be even more intensive, intentionally organized to maximize students’ exposure and connection to Indiana
leaders and business owners as well as creatively introducing them to the cities and communities through community events such as art fairs, farmer’s markets, and homestays with Indiana residents.
This year we held a talkback session with Jim Poyser. Next year, we will also be able to attend and volunteer at his Climate Camp and interact with the numerous middle- and high-school students that are a part of this initiative. This year, we were able to volunteer at Valentine Hill Farm planting crops. Next year, we will also assist them in selling at Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market. This year, we had dinner with Catholic Workers and volunteered on the farm that supplied their community with food. Next year, we will also spend a day preparing that food for members of the Catholic Worker community and volunteering in their facility. This year, we happened to be in Indianapolis during First Friday. Next year, we’ll do the same, as well as participate in the biking farm-to-table dining experience offered by Indianapolis each June.
The course was in a trial phase in 2015 and is intended to run bi-annually. Hopes for the course’s continued success include being able to build, year by year, a quality bicycle fleet (intended to be available for rental throughout the school year and for use on the Bike Indiana May Term) and maintenance/support structure for the fleet. Maintaining a fleet allows Earlham to provide bikes to its students so they have transportation in Richmond and around the county. As well, it provides a transportation option for students who don’t have a car but wish to work or participate in an internship in Richmond. It is also the intention of the instructors to design multiple, smaller, educational and experiential trips throughout Indiana to run during the school year. This will allow Earlham to serve a greater number of students as well as provide trips that are affordable in cost and accomplishable in scope in a shorter amount of time. These trips could include: biking the Cardinal Greenway to Muncie, experiencing a local restaurant or taking in a lecture or arts presentation at Ball State University, or participating in a day of clean-up service for the trail; Cycling tours through historic Irvington and working a day at Pogue’s Run grocery; A visit to the Indiana Dunes State Park with a discussion on local plantlife and watersheds with a park employee; A day-trip to Purdue University to explore graduate programs in green energy and a visit to the Northern Indiana wind turbines. If interest grows, it would also be possible to run a Central/Southern Indiana route for this course, allowing us to visit numerous state parks, artist enclaves and unique Indiana towns such as Evansville, Bloomington and Nashville.
Upon our return from the May Term, discussion began on options for connecting new faculty members with Indiana in meaningful ways, since many of them come only for employment at Earlham but have no connection to Indiana as a whole. The possibility of this program serving as an immersive experience designed at retaining young, vibrant faculty and their families is being strongly considered for Earlham’s summer 2016 and summer 2017 faculty immersion and bridge-building experiences. Should the program grow at an ideal rate, the bicycle fleet could serve Earlham students on a daily basis, the smaller trips throughout the year could serve as many as forty students, the May Term could serve forty students, and the faculty immersion experience could serve ten to twenty faculty.
Earlham faculty Danielle Steele and Alexia Springer would like to extend their sincere and lasting gratitude to the Indiana Pathways grantmakers for this invaluable opportunity.