A trail at the Seminar Forest

Seminar Forest Reboot

A collaborative campus effort leads to a spruce up of Seminar Forest.
By: Marissa Carney

Like many college professors, Gail Good is always looking for ways to make her classes interesting and inspiring, especially for her first-year seminar students.

Good is an associate teaching professor of agriculture at Penn State Altoona, and among her classes is AG 150, a two-credit seminar course for first-year agriculture students. The class introduces them to the University setting and provides an opportunity to develop friendships and camaraderie.

Good attended a Living Labs workshop over the summer hoping for some ideas to spice up the seminar class. Sponsored by the Penn State Sustainability Institute, the workshop highlighted University Park sustainability-based projects completed by students and supported by several offices and departments there.

After the workshop, Good spoke with several faculty and staff at Penn State Altoona about possible sustainability-themed projects on the campus. Two stood out as achievable possibilities: a Spring Run clean up and clearing the trails at Seminar Forest.

The Ag Club, for which Good is a co-advisor, teamed up with the Biology Club and Tri-Beta for the Spring Run clean-up that took place on October 14. That left the Seminar Forest project.

Students participate in the Seminar Forest Clean-up

The forest is a forty-acre tract of land across from the campus with hiking and mountain biking trails and a restored pond. Open to the community, several professors use it as part of their curriculum. Good often takes her first-year seminar students on hikes during class time. “The students enjoy and appreciate the time outside of the traditional classroom setting while getting to know one another,” states Good. “The Seminar Forest clean-up idea made a natural connection for the class.”

Grace Frey, treasurer of the Ag Club, is a sophomore agriculture student pursuing the agribusiness management major. She was interested in participating in the Seminar Forest project, so as part of her English honors course, she developed “The Seminar Forest Reboot” plan. “I had always wanted to improve the college in some way before my time here was over, and this project was my way to do that,” she says.

Collaboration with different offices, groups, and individuals across the campus was a big part of the project. Several sophomore peer mentors who Good pairs with first-year seminar students were instrumental in providing group leadership in the classroom, preparing for the endeavor and on the trail. The college’s Facilities and Operations joined the effort by removing large dead trees and stumps with equipment such as chainsaws. Other professors brought students from their courses to help clear the trails of fallen limbs, branches, and brush on a few occasions.

Good says teamwork quickly and naturally surfaced, and students were thrilled to discover various wildlife, including a box turtle that immediately became an attraction.

“Growing up in a busy city did not allow the possibility of experiencing half of the things I did during the Reboot,” says Kylie Bralczyk. “Being in nature has always been something personal and inspirational for me. I see myself going to the forest to relax or hang out with my friends.”

Students from AG 150 pose in for a photo in the Seminar Forest

“This experience was extremely beneficial for me,” states Eric Dick. “It made me want to go back as much as possible. Whether getting together with some friends for a fire or going for a walk, Seminar Forest just has a nice vibe to it and really makes you feel welcome.”

A second part of the Reboot is forest trail signage. With funding available from the Student Government Association, Good and Frey are having signs created and hope to have them ordered by the end of the semester.

“So far, I think the project is a success,” says Frey. “I’m proud to watch my peers get involved and have so many others working together to make a change. I’m excited to see the results of our hard work.”

Good agrees with Frey’s assessment. “I am grateful for the support from individuals and teams throughout the campus. The Spring Run clean-up and Seminar Forest Reboot have been true campus endeavors. Working side by side and observing the students in action has been rewarding. Their efforts, smiles, and getting to know one another has enhanced my job experience and added a positive note to my day.”