Feature Article for the Robert Morris College Eagle Newspaper
as it appeared in print in July, 2008
DuPage Honors Students Greenmap Naperville Riverwalk
By Shannon Wittwer
Under the watchful and inventive tutelage of full time English professor Gerard Wozek, RMC DuPage Honors students were encouraged to explore the connection between literature, art and nature with jaunts to the serene Naperville Riverwalk during their Summer 1 2008 English 232 course.
In the heart of bustling DuPage County lies the tranquil 75 acre, four mile long Riverwalk, its humble origins dating back to an acre and a half beginning in the early 1980's, built and dedicated to celebrate the city of Naperville’s Sesquicentennial.
The Riverwalk’s simplicity and beauty are at the heart of its draw, not only for critics, but for residents and tourists as well. Now thanks to the combined vision of English faculty member Gerard Wozek and Art and Design instructor Mary Russell, it has also become the centerpiece of a new learning experience.
Students in Wozek’s English 232 Honors course visited the Riverwalk several times over the Summer 1 term to explore further the unsung role of the environment with nature journaling and green mapping. Along with drawing, students conducted an in-depth analysis of nature-themed works of literature.
According to Russell, “Nature journaling can be viewed as a great experiential learning tool because it combines drawing with writing along with the complimentary studies of science, history and physical education. Being in nature reinforces one’s ability to be human.”
Like Russell, Wozek’s desire is to show his students the many ways, both subtle and powerful, that something unexpected and outside the boundaries of a traditional classroom, can be turned into a learning experience. “The essays and short stories in the course are focused around the forces of nature. Students did writing exercises in class to emphasize the thematic power of humankind as it interfaces with the impact of nature. Students also drew images and symbols embedded in the literature that related to nature.”
Wozek added: “When we got to the Riverwalk, the class was primed to make connections between the characters in the stories, the outdoors, and themselves. Combining text with image and nature with the human perspective is a powerful opportunity for our students. Once students got back into the classroom, we were able to reinterpret our notations and add our field observations to a more complete critical analysis of our literature.”
This aspect of getting out of the classroom and into nature, was for RMC Honors student Tim Reboletti, a freedom, “I was more awake at the Riverwalk than what I would ever be in a classroom, we were able to take the learning experience and put in into our hands and experience everything in our own way, it allowed me to see first hand what Mr. Wozek was trying to get across through the literature. He wants to make a connection for the class beyond just the school classroom. Both he and Ms. Russell revealed a way of understanding and interacting with the world that surrounds us.”
Honor students Carrie Lund and Kristin Okopski agree. Carrie expresses a desire “to go further” in exploring the Riverwalk in the future and Kristin feels “her eyes were opened” by the experience. Both students have written extensive nature poems coupled with outdoor sketches that were revealed to other students in their final showcase journal projects at the end of the course.
Earlier in the quarter, Russell and Wozek presented their new nature poetry video, “The Book of Green”, to nearly one hundred audience members at the Chicago Green Festival held downtown at Navy Pier. The short film collaged images of nature journaling, many from former RMC students. The DuPage Honors students accompanied Wozek and Russell on a Sunday afternoon fieldtrip and had an opportunity to present journal entries and poems from their nature studies to the audience at this Festival. The Honors students answered questions and shared powerful insights from their field journals about their experiences at the Riverwalk.
A testament to the redemptive power of nature and design, the Riverwalk is credited with reviving Naperville in the 1980's and ushering it into its fruitful new future. From a simple beginning, built with no state or federal funding, the Riverwalk has now blossomed into the soul of a community, and the soul of an inventive new experiential learning curriculum at RMC.
This article was written by Shannon Wittwer, DuPage Campus Staff Writer