Exploring Connections Fosters Natural World Ties

How bees pollinate flowers might be interesting, but why should the average person care? Professor Maria Sanders maintains that “finding the story behind the data” is key to making science more relevant, and this insight is central to PSU’s partnership with NH Audubon in an ongoing webinar series examining environmental ethics.

Professor Maria Sanders

Exploring Connections to and Stewardship of the Natural World is supported by a grant through New Hampshire Humanities and aims to foster a deeper understanding and care of—and appreciation for—our natural world. Programs are free to the public and streamed via Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook Live. 

Presentations are being coordinated by Sanders and Diane De Luca, a senior biologist with NH Audubon. “This partnership with Plymouth State has allowed us to more deeply explore personal connections to land use, wildlife, history, and human interaction with the natural world,” says De Luca. “With Maria’s help, our series includes a diversity of presenters including poets, authors, philosophers, and scientists.”

The series began this spring with Sanders providing the first two programs, “The Place We Call Home” and “Exploring Connections Between Humanities and the Natural Sciences.” Both sessions and subsequent ones are archived for viewing through NH Audubon’s website. The series will continue through February 2022 and also features PSU faculty members Jamie Hannon, Barbara McCahan, and MaryAnn McGarry, along with thought leaders representing a wide range of organizations and perspectives.

Sanders, a philosophy professor and licensed attorney, has dedicated three decades to researching scientific variables for living full and flourishing lives, and encourages her students to reach across disciplinary boundaries. Briana Chase ’21, a biology major who minored in applied ethics, northern New England heritage studies, and sustainability, was a student in Sanders’s Medical Ethics course.

“My biggest take away was the importance of mental and physical health,” says Chase. “Our personal health is very important, and I learned that we can partner this with good stewardship of the natural world by consciously making healthy choices while making good choices for the environment, too. It does not need to be a choice of one or the other, and I will be able to encourage this as I continue my pursuit to be a national forest officer.”

Professor Jamie Hannon

Plymouth State’s co-sponsorship of the series with NH Audubon makes complete sense to Adventure Education Professor Jamie Hannon because it recognizes the University’s strengths. “I really believe that we’re leading the way in connecting our students to the natural world,” he says. “We even have a rock climber on our school seal. The PSU community is passionate about the natural world and it’s part of our culture.”

Hannon’s presentation, “Nature Connection in NH Schools,” is slated for September 7 and will examine the Mountain Village Charter School of Plymouth. Hannon is a founding member and board chair of Mountain Village, the only nature-based, Montessori public school in the world. Its educational program is dedicated to immersive, daily nature experiences, which dovetails neatly with the interests and predispositions of Plymouth State students. Students have opportunities to become involved with the school and a number of alumni who have gone on to teach there.

“Most of our students, regardless of their major, want a connection to the natural world, and that’s what attracts and drives them here,” says Hannon. “In adventure education, the natural experience is a constant program input and we focus on creating those emotional and psychological connections.”

Sanders was on sabbatical in Fall 2019 and traveled to all 50 states to film interviews that documented people’s experiences with place, from natural preserves to repurposed structures. That research provided the foundation for her Museum of the White Mountains exhibition, Space2Place, and a philosophical book of poetry, Sunrise Sunset. In the midst of all of these projects, NH Audubon contacted her with the idea of collaborating on Exploring Connections.

Her sabbatical’s overall theme of more mindful living and the help that the natural world can provide were of particular resonance when so many were isolated in COVID lockdown. Sanders’s research has found a place in her courses and in those of her University colleagues, and the Exploring Connections series livestream presentations are expanding the circle even further.

“NH Audubon reached out to me about this series—they really wanted to make the connection between the natural sciences and the humanities,” says Sanders. “I consider all of this to be related to Integrated Clusters and the Exploring Connections series is a great real-world example. The word’s getting out that this is what Plymouth State does.”