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Preservation mission: UC graduate helps kids connect to nature

Service learning project leads to field day event in Burnet Woods

By Keshav Vinod

With climate change making headlines around the world daily, it may never have been more important to foster appreciation for nature. So Colin Fields, a recent University of Cincinnati McMicken College of Arts and Sciences psychology graduate, decided to do his part locally.

Fields’s part was helping to organize a field day event for students at Rockdale Academy in Avondale, through a service learning opportunity offered by his environmental writing class. This year’s field day took place in Clifton’s Burnet Woods, and included activities like arts and crafts, nature tours, and more — all designed to foster a closer connection between the kids and nature.

Service learning opportunities at UC give students the chance to learn outside the classroom, making contributions that have real impact in the community, for course credit. The service learning component of education at UC supports the university’s Urban Futures Initiative, a part of its new strategic direction Next Lives Here.

“The end goal of our project was to give the kids a positive and memorable experience in Burnet Woods, and in doing so to help foster a closer relationship between the school and the park,” said Fields. “We hoped that this field day event would, in turn, serve as a model for increasing access and awareness of local green spaces among underserved communities in the uptown area, specifically with young kids.”

UC psychology graduate Colin Fields.

UC psychology graduate Colin Fields.

A part of Cincinnati Parks, Burnet Woods is located on 90 acres close to UC’s main campus, and includes hiking trails, a catch-and-release fishing lake, playgrounds, the Wolff Planetarium, and more.

Although it provides a haven of green space in the urban neighborhood, the space faces challenges. It has become harder to preserve the land and ward off the threat of development, according to the 2014 report "Re-imagining Burnet Woods." The park has also recently gained an unfavorable reputation due to illicit activities, litter, and overall poor maintenance, all of which have deterred visitors. 

These challenges have served as inspiration for preservation efforts. Field Day required coordination between various organizations, including the Cincinnati Park Board, Preserve Burnet Woods, and Clifton Cultural Arts Center. Many UC students were also present, and joined by community members, who came to volunteer. 

"I think this project demonstrated to me how individuals can go about turning an abstract idea into a reality through networking, problem solving, and, most of all, through relentless enthusiasm,” said Fields. “I saw this from my group members and from others involved in the project.”

According to Fields, this was a great way to help the underprivileged community make a stronger connection to green spaces, all of which can have many positive effects.

Colin Fields’ story is one in a series about service learning opportunities and student community involvement through UC’s College of Arts & Sciences. 

Feature image above: Park setting. Credit: Albrecht Fietz for Pixabay.