Beyond the standard professional vitae, have you ever wondered what books leaders in higher education are reading? Or, more personally, who had the greatest impact in their life achievements? Tune in to 10 Questions to Leadership and preview these professional, candid, and intriguing responses from leaders in a variety of roles.
Ten Questions to Darien Ripple Experiential Learning Program Manager University of Baltimore
Darien Ripple is the new Experiential Learning Program Manager at the University of Baltimore (UB). Prior to accepting his position at UB in the spring of 2014, he was at Chandler-Gilbert Community College serving as a philosophy faculty member, coordinator of the Sustainability and Ecological Literacy program, and Director of the Environmental Technology Center. Ripple earned a Ph.D. in sustainability education writing his dissertation on the relationship of international education to transformational learning and environmental sustainability. He has received a variety of scholarly grants, including a Fulbright Scholarship to study globalization in Mexico and Belize, a Perkin’s Work Place grant studying ground water contamination, and a Maricopa Institute for Learning Fellowship.
1. What obstacles does the ‘next gen’ face in environmentalism and ecology beyond the baby boomer age?
When I teach Environmental Ethics, I inform my students that they are now living on a
planet that is attempting to support a human population of over seven billion people. Their world is vastly different than the post World War II Earth that the Baby Boomer generation inherited, with just two billion people. By 2025, the population will most likely be around eight billion, with eighty percent living in the poorest countries. So, there are many obstacles if developed nations like the United States want to continue living a lifestyle that cannot be supported by a finite planet.
- How do you define your work in “confronting environmental nihilism in higher education”?
My research in sustainability education focuses on trends in society that have created a generation of learners that is alienated from a direct relationship with nature. I normally refer to environmental nihilism as an existential isolation from nature and others that is associated with modernity. I argue that if we want college students to understand sustainability, it is imperative that institutions of higher learning go beyond the passive learning practices of lecture-based education. We instead need to engage students in learning activities that provide connections with their local eco-systems. This can be achieved by collaborative learning projects that are problem-based inquiries confronting such topics of species extinction, local energy use, and ecological literacy.
- How can faculty, staff, and administrators support learners in gaining a new appreciation and participating in service work for environmental development and sustainability?
I think experiential learning is the key to having students transform in their understanding of environmental sustainability. Colleges and universities need to create centers of learning that focus on real problems associated with the formation of sustainable societies. Students should be encouraged to question the accepted paradigm of growth. And, faculty ought to focus on learning assignments that critically question the missions and objectives of universities and local communities.
- What data can you share that support program development for colleges to initiate innovative and proven environmental projects?
I had the good fortune to serve as a Maricopa Institute for Learning Fellow, which allowed me the opportunity to engage in research focused on applied experiential learning practices in my Environmental Ethics courses. My fellowship research was published in the spring 2013 issue of the Journal of Sustainability Education (JSE), and titled, Sustainability Education and Environmental Nihilism: Transforming Suburbia through Experiential Learning. I mention this article because the main focus was not on grades and retention, but that I discovered that changing my method of instruction, taking a more enhanced approach to experiential learning, yielded a considerable improvement in comparison to the previous year. In the fall of 2010, there was a retention rate of 66 percent, with 56 percent of students earning a grade of C or better, of which 36 percent received an A. In comparison, in fall 2011, the retention rate was 94 percent, with 86 percent of students earning a grade of C or better, and 52 percent receiving an A. My
study is not an isolated case; there are countless examples of great projects that progressive educators have implemented throughout the world in the Journal of Sustainability Education.
- What are the leading trends for environmental programs and academic innovations?
I do not know if there are leading trends because the sustainability movement is still a very pluralistic movement, which I kind of like. For those who are interested in this question, Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society, by Andres Edwards, is a good resource. Edwards provides a context to the sustainability movement and notes great applications of sustainability in local communities. I do have to say, it seems that some institutions tend to focus more on research that supports the growth paradigm by primarily funding technologies associated with economic development in the energy sector instead of committing environment preservation, and social justice issues.
- How can colleges and universities support environmental projects on a national scale and collaborate to better serve global efforts?
Sustainability in Higher Education (SHE), promoted by the United Nations, goes back to the 1970s. In 1992, Agenda 21 was created to promote awareness in higher education to focus on developing training in sustainability. In more recent years, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (ASSHE) has taken the lead on creating partnerships and providing resources for sustainability education. ASSHE has created such resources as a case study database, a list of campus organizations, and the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) to measure sustainability performance through a self-reporting framework.
- Who was significantly influential in your career path with green technology and environmental innovations?
Dr. Mark Reader, a political scientist at Arizona State University, was the one who first got me to further explore environmental issues at the academic level. Before being mentored by Dr. Reader, environmentalism seemed to me to be more of a personal choice and not a moral imperative that needed to be shared. However, my real passion began when I started to work on coursework in the Ph.D. program at Prescott College. I was given the opportunity to learn from leaders in environmentalism and globalization, such as Dr. Max Oelschlaeger (Northern Arizona University), Dr. Manuel Chavez (Michigan State University), and Dr. Paul Sneed (Prescott College). This is when I was able to start putting theory into practice by creating projects that promoted sustainability education.
- What inspired your work and commitment to environmental efforts and ecology?
There has not been one set-alone thing, or moment that inspired me. I was fortunate to grow up in an area of Maryland that allowed me to play and explore in nature. Some of
my favorite childhood memories are of camping and fishing on the Potomac River. As an adult, I have had the opportunity to explore very diverse ecosystems, like the jungles of Belize and Arizona desert. All of the places I have visited are facing future challenges that could completely destroy whole ecosystems. I enjoy spending time in nature with my family and I hope future generations will have the same opportunities.
9. Of your recent research and professional experiences, which has had most significance?
Hands down, being the innovator of the Chandler Gilbert Community College Environmental Technology Center has been my most significant professional experience. I helped transform a desolate two-acre plot of land into a hub of experiential learning, where students work on projects such as adobe brick building, composting, planting gardens, and experiments associated with a variety of courses. That being said, I am now very excited to be in my new role as the first Experiential Learning Program Manager in the Office of Academic Innovation at the University of Baltimore. I think I am in a position which will allow me the autonomy to explore community engagement and sustainability projects and to influence a wider community.
10. What book(s) are you currently reading, or have you recently finished?
I just finished reading Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements, by Bill Moyer, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. I just picked up The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.