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Terrascope Students Tackle Urban Biodiversity

On December 2, students in the Terrascope first-year learning community presented their plans for addressing the nation’s everyday biodiversity crisis and defended their ideas in front of an expert panel. The students chose to focus on biodiversity issues related to urban areas, and they proposed a variety of solutions addressing topics ranging from urban sprawl to innovative agriculture.

The panelists were: Dr. Rebecca Shaw, Chief Scientist and Senior Vice President for Global Science at the World Wildlife Fund; Quinton Zondervan, a Cambridge City Councilor, tech entrepreneur, non-profit leader and community activist; Taina McField, Deputy Director of MIT CoLab; and Allison Houghton, a horticulturalist invested in the remediation of soils for ecosystem health.

This was of course a particularly challenging semester to work on large, collaborative group projects, but the students did a remarkably good job of building community and working together towards their common goal. On their own initiative, they developed a variety of mechanisms to keep one another informed, develop common goals and perform related tasks. Instructors also focused heavily on community-building, introducing new elements to the class that were specifically designed to encourage the first-year students to get to know one another. A strong group of alumni mentors also reached out to students and made themselves available to give guidance, critique, and general, non-class-related advice, and a squad of undergraduate teaching fellows provided key support, showing great compassion and empathy while still helping the first-years hold themselves to high standards.

And the students even managed to take advantage of this year’s unusual situation. For example, they developed what were effectively rolling work groups, with students in eastern time zones gathering early in the evening, and the composition of the group gradually trending westwards as the evening (and early morning) wore on. During the presentation’s Q & A period, the students used their interconnected status, and the fact that they were not standing in front of an in-person audience, to offer one another support, advice and encouragement in answering questions, to very impressive effect. The presentation is available on video for those who are interested.

— Ari Epstein, Terrascope