Writer: Julia Mills

Children visiting the Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens will soon be able to tour the exhibits using interactive technology on their smart phones, thanks to students in a Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources service-learning class.

The Natural Resources, Recreation and Tourism (NRRT) environmental interpretation class has been around for awhile but recently added a service learning component, partnering with area agencies to help them better promote themselves or their programs.

Warnell Associate Professor Gary Green said the goal of the course is to produce a product that will benefit a local agency and help students better understand “the philosophies, concepts, theories and practical techniques and skills in environmental interpretation.”

At the Lyndon House, an Athens-Clarke County Parks and Recreation Facility that offers art exhibits and classes, the students created a self-guided audio tour for young visitors that will allow them to use smart phones to scan quick response codes (QRC) to get more information about an exhibit. They also created interactive signage and a scavenger hunt to help visitors learn more about the historic building and exhibits.

“As a publicly-managed cultural resource, the Lyndon House also is charged with educating the public,” said Aura Geoghagan, senior natural resource, recreation and tourism major. “Building cooperative connections between the university and other public resources like the Lyndon House is important for everyone: the progress made can be greater and further-reaching than either group could accomplish on its own.”

Other local agencies that received help from Green’s students include the Sandy Creek Nature Center (SCNC) and the Bear Hollow Zoo, both Athens-Clarke County park facilities, and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a unit of the UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach.

One group of students created a brochure for Sandy Creek to educate local residents and visitors on forest management practices and how they benefit the environment. The project will show visitors the different stages of forest growth and how to improve forest health and habitat through controversial management practices such as prescribed burning, thinning and clear-cutting.

“We want this project at Sandy Creek to become a new and unique environmental education experience for visitors,” said Shawn Harrington, a senior natural resource, recreation and tourism major, said. “Hopefully, this will bring added awareness to the past, present and future of our natural resources as well.”

Another group is working with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia (SBG) to help develop discovery tours—self-guided explorations of the different gardens and plants found at the SBG. The goal is to help visitors discover and make connections with some of the unfamiliar plants growing in the garden.

“We want everyone who visits the SBG to find a way to connect with nature,” James Ammons, a doctoral student in science education, said.

“I think more UGA students would enjoy working on projects that have a real-life impact on the community outside of the UGA campus. More instructors should be looking into creating these authentic experiences for students.”

Service-learning at UGA is the application of academic skills and knowledge to address a community need, issue, or problem and to enhance student learning. The Office of Service-Learning is overseen jointly by the vice presidents for public service and outreach, and instruction.