Monday, May 5, 2014

Activist Women visit Unity House

It's such a privilege to work with our students -- the environmental leaders of today and tomorrow! Congratulations to this year's WE Lead Student Environmental Leaders, Marina Theberge and Rebecca Zerlin! Both have made exceptional contributions to Unity College and to the larger world. They were honored at a reception and a ceremony organized by Unity's Experiential Program Coordinator, Nancy Vosburgh-Zane.

In April, our local community hosted several internationally-renowned visitors, including Dr. Lara Hansen, the 2014 WE Lead award winner.  Dr. Hansen, who served on the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning IPCC team, is currently the founding director of EcoAdapt, a non-profit organization that provides support for climate change adaptation.

We were also privileged to host a production of Kaiulani Lee's one-woman play, Can't Scare Me: The Story of Mother Jones at the UCCPA. Kaiulani is well known for her portrayal of Rachel Carson in the one-woman stage and film work, A Sense of Wonder. In both cases, Kaiulani has brought new meaning to the term "one-woman": she not only performs both roles, she researched and wrote both scripts. Kaiulani will be honored this year by the Audubon Women in Conservation for her work on A Sense of Wonder, which "reminds the audience of the monumental stature and influence of Rachel Carson, of how precious our natural world is, and of just how dramatic and difficult the challenges can be for those who stand to protect the truth."

The night before the play, Kaiulani attended a dinner with students and members of the community at Unity House. She spent much of her time talking with students. There's Marina again on the right, along with recent grad Zach Wigham, Environmental Writing major Josiah Coyle, and Summer Nay, who studies Adventure Therapy.

Community members also engaged in vigorous dialogue about a host of topics, as captured in this thoughtful moment between writing coach Kathrin Seitz and poet-activist Susie O'Keeffe.

As the semester here at Unity comes to a close, I'm reviewing final review assignments from my section of Environmental Issues and Insights. Many of the students in that section expressed gratitude for the opportunity to read Rachel Carson's seminal work, Silent Spring, because it helped them to understand current environmental debates. In the words of one student, Emilee Reynolds, "I am better able to understand the scientific side of issues like GMO foods from reading Silent Spring." As usual, I am very proud of our students' insights, and I look forward to the new generation of activist women! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Peace Jam at Unity

Last fall, Unity students signed on as mentors for the regional PeaceJam slam for New England.  The event drew over 40 high school and middle school participants from Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Unity students facilitated "family groups" and outdoor adventure activities on campus.

The day was so full of joy and inspiration, that a core group of Unity students decided to form the first PeaceJam Scholars Student Organization right here in Central Maine.  A Scholars group is for college students who want to be involved with PeaceJam to support elementary, middle and high school age youth in our community, and to carry out their own Global Call to Action service project. Here, the students meet at Unity House with Cathy Roberts (left), the Maine PeaceJam Coordinator.

The PeaceJam mission is about Nobel Peace Laureates mentoring youth to change the world. Thanks to a generous gift from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the Unity PeaceJam Scholars group was able to register and attend the March 13 - 14  New England Spring Conference with Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias! Pictured here is a group of PeaceJammers with Oscar Arias; our own Dean Sheehan is front and center.

Stay tuned, because Unity will be hosting the regional PeaceJam Slam on campus in Fall of 2014! Meanwhile, you can feel the love in this video of a shout out to Afghanistan, with Unity students Matt Leaghan and Zach Jendzejec.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Visiting Energy Expert Sharon Reishus

On November 4, 2013, energy policy expert Sharon Reishus spent an afternoon and evening on campus, visiting a class combined of Professional Writing and Natural Resource Policy students, and then meeting students and faculty for dinner at Unity House.

Sharon leads the development and delivery of research content for the IHS CERA North American Power Advisory Service. Previously, she served on Maine's state-wide Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for nearly seven years. Sitting in on the class, my knowledge of energy policy in Maine and in the world expanded exponentially. For example, I learned that Maine has been in the forefront of renewable energy use for over a hundred years, thanks to the hydroelectric plants that were originally built to supply power to the paper companies. Maine still gets over 25% of its energy from hydroelectricity sources like the Worumbo project pictured here.


Oversight agencies like the PUC were established to regulate utility companies in the absence of the sort of free market competition that is assumed to result in fair market prices. A natural teacher, Sharon explained that monopolies for utility companies were established by federal and state governments to avoid duplication of major infrastructure efforts, as Sharon reminded us during her classroom presentation. For example, having three electric or telephone companies would require three sets of lines.

The PUC is a judicial body that holds hearings on matters like rate increase requests, and requests for proposals for offshore wind projects. In the course of her service to the commission, Sharon saw an evolution in the type of stakeholders who came before the PUC. Increasingly diverse groups of citizens and corporate interests -- including representatives from the renewable energy industry -- all promoted their particular interests.

Sharon, who cares deeply about environmental issues in Maine and in the world, told us it became quite agonizing to weigh the often competing interests of economic prosperity, including jobs for Mainers, with ecosystem health and the consequences of fossil fuel emissions. I appreciated Sharon's emphasis on the complexity of energy issues. Like most complex systems, energy production and consumption systems benefit from diversity. A diverse energy portfolio can increase our overall energy security.

One of Sharon' proudest accomplishments was helping to bring the PUC and the Department of Environmental Protection together in founding the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She believes that California's new carbon credit trading program will have a significant international impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

After class, the discussion continued at Unity House, where faculty including Dr. Janis Balda,  students from
the class, and members of Unity's Honors Program shared a very tasty dinner. Thank you to Dining Services chefs Charlie Krause and Jay Lozada for their thoughtful and creative selections, featuring locally-sourced food.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Class of 1973!

Front:Row: Dot Quimby, Louis Abramson, Michele, Michele Bajardi, Rev. George Fowler, Steve Bajardi
Back Row: Lennie Freedenberg, Bob Portner, Stephen, Steve Silver, Marc Bane
On Saturday, September 21, 2013, in the middle of a fantastic Community Weekend, Stephen and I hosted a brunch for some folks from Unity's Class of 1973.

 The Unity alums were delighted -- and who wouldn't be -- to see Dot Quimby and George Fowler, two of the original Unity staff members.  Dot and George often acted as substitute parents for new students, especially those who came from far-flung places like . . . New York City.

George almost didn't make it because he knocked on the back door while everyone was outside taking photos. "They wouldn't let me in!" he said.  But luckily, we were able to track down George, as well as Lou Abramson, who had also gone astray.

The conversation was rich and lively, and it was easy for me to visualize these folks as young, passionate students, in many ways very much like the students of today . . .  

maybe because one thing students from every generation share is a sense of humor about their college experience. . .

. . . and a love of coffee and conversation.

Stephen and I hope to see everyone from this group again at Unity's 50th anniversary alumni celebration on September 23, 2015.  It certainly seems destined to be. Could another "one L" Michele, who is married to someone named "Steve" be a coincidence?  I think not!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hemlocks, Adelgids, Sciences, and Arts

What do these four things have in common?

It began on April 19, when Unity College hosted two amazing women who integrate science and activism in their award-winning poetry.  Alison Hawthorne Deming and Elizabeth Bradfield joined faculty and staff in the afternoon for a discussion of their transdisciplinary work. Everyone was inspired by the overarching questions,"How can the sciences inform the arts?" and "How can the arts inform the sciences?" and "How can scientists and artists bring their attention to the same subject?" and "How can the sciences and the arts come together to create meaningful, accessible communication about environmental crises?" Maybe the first step is for the people to come together. Or maybe the first step is to identify a subject.

Following the discussion, the poets met with faculty, students, and community arts folks for dinner at Unity House. The space was abuzz with questions about boundaries and meeting places between biology and poetry, and between sciences and arts genrally. We topped off the day with a public reading by Alison and Liz at the Quimby Library that was attended by over 40 listeners. View a video recording (thanks to librarian Sandy Olson) here.

Later in the spring, I got an email about summer research at Unity, including Unity's Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study. Dr. Amy Arnett, the project manager, tells us that "HEMS (the Hemlock Ecosystem Management Study) is a multi-year study of how loss of eastern hemlock trees affects ecosystems and people in Maine. Mature hemlock trees that create unique aesthetic and environmental conditions in the forests they dominate face infestation by the expanding range of the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA). . . . The range of the invasive HWA is expanding northward; it has arrived in southern Maine."

HEMS, I learned, is already integrated across multiple disciplines. Amy Arnett is an ecologist who specializes in the study of invertebrates, like the ants of the hemlock forest. Brent Bibles is a wildlife biologist who has set up deer exclosures on the sites to study herbivory patterns. Erika Latty's expertise is in forest ecology and plant biology. Kathleen Dunckel brings her knowledge of geospatial information systems (GIS) to the process of land use planning and resource management.

Recalling Alison's description of her observation and writing at a Douglas Fir research site, and Liz's description of how her work in the Arctic inspired her to write about the lives of Arctic and Antarctic explorers raised the questions "Why not hemlocks? and "Why not us?" And now, four people from the arts are meeting with four people from the sciences. Sculptor Kimberly Callas (who took these photos of a HEMS field site), poet/photographer Margot Kelley, writer Melissa Coleman, and poet/multimedia artist Susie O'Keeffe are each approaching our subject -- HEMS -- in unique ways. Stay tuned to see what happens next!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Goat Story

On Wednesday, April 24, I came back to Unity House to prepare for a 5 pm alumni meeting. A one hundred fifty pound surprise was waiting for me and the dogs. A large goat stood outside of the sliding glass doors to the living area, and he seemed to be kissing the glass!

Last week, Petey the Goat escaped with a friend during a truck transfer on campus. Public Safety issued an all-points email bulletin for the missing goats, and Petey's friend was soon brought home. But Petey wandered the Unity area (and maybe beyond -- who knows where a goat goes?) for nearly a week.  I had been following the Public Safety updates (essentially, "the goat hasn't been found yet"), so it didn't take long for me to realize that the goat outside the glass was The Missing Goat.

I slid the door open a crack a started gibbering stuff like "Nice goatey," stuck my arm out, and grabbed the goat's leash. As soon as I stepped out onto the brick patio, the goat leapt into the air like a deer.  Thankfully, for me and for him, he leapt into the wire trellis you can see in this photo, and I was able to wrap the leash around the trellis and tie him up.

I called Public Safety, and Kris Miville picked up on the second ring.  Coincidentally, Petey's owner, Julie Kosch, had just been on campus. She and Kris arrived at Unity House in minutes.
Julie, who is adjunct faculty here, was overcome with emotion at the reunion.  Petey had been AWOL for so long, that Julie feared he had become tangled up somewhere, or worse.  I was very touched by her tenderness and concern, and by Petey's affection and obvious relief to be back with her.

And that's the story!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ferrets and Hedgehogs and Bugs, Oh My!

In late January, I visited with Assistant Professor Cheryl Frederick in the Koons Hall Small Animal Room.  Cheryl and work study students Patricia Preston, Kristen Volpe, and Kevin Isherwood put zillions of hours into the creation of this room  to create a safe, healthy environment for animals, and all of them continue to work hard to provide day in and day out support to the animals and the facility.  Here, Cheryl is holding one of two African Pygmy Hedgehogs, Daphne and Aspen.  Both Daphne and Aspen were used as breeders for the hedgehog pet industry and are now retired to Unity where they get lots of attention because they are so adorable! The hedgehogs live in a big black tub filled with soil and plants and a few old logs they can hide under.  They are actually quite shy.

The endangered box turtle (above) lives in a similar earthy environment.  He was burrowed into the leaf litter in his terrarium when I arrived, but Cheryl very gently uncovered him so we could get a look at how well his shell colors provide him with camouflage. Sheldon, the Red-Eared Slider turtle, seemed quite gregarious, although I'm not sure he could see me through the glass.  Maybe he was looking for treats.  This turtle is an invasive species in Maine. He transferred to Unity from Avian Haven.

Almost everyone in the room besides me and Cheryl and the work study students eats bugs. So where do all those bugs come from?  To cut down on costs, and to create a sustainable operation, Cheryl and her students raise their own bugs for animal food and as subjects for research and observation.  Here you can see a gang of woodlice that are used in a couple of different classes, and there's also a breeding crate for mealy bugs on top of the refrigerator in case you are hungry. Breeding the mealy bugs right at our facility insures a supply of fresh and wholesome food for the hedgehogs, the turtles, and these Gray Treefrogs, who are native to Maine. One of the frogs was hand-raised from the tadpole stage by Cheryl, and two were found injured on campus by Unity students Sarah Wegner and Skylar Bisesti.
And then there's the ferrets -- four of them -- Bear, Gracie, Raf, and Darnit!  I'm holding Bear in this photo. They smell awful, but they are fun to hold because they just drape themselves into your arms, and they are quite accustomed to human beings.  The four ferrets in the Animal Room were pets that ended up at a ferret rescue home.  The person running the rescue asked Cheryl if she had room, and she said yes!

So far, that's how most of the animals arrived here -- they were either loose invasives, or found on campus, or animals that had been kept as pets or breeders who needed new homes.  All are thriving in the gentle and expert hands of Cheryl, Patricia, Kristen, and Kevin.