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Butterfly learning garden evolves

Dr. Lilly Walker cuts the ribbon at the official opening of Memorial University's new Butterfly Learning Garden. Joining her are Lynn Walsh and Chris Hounsell, Career Development and Experiential Learning; Steve Mahon, Facilities Management and carpenter responsible for building the benches; Kim Kelly; Biology student Hilary Alteen; Dr. Tom Chapman, Biology; and Penny Cofield, Career Development and Experiential Learning.


A small patch of land just east of the Chemistry-Physics building has been trimmed, weeded, mulched, planted and fertilized into a beautiful Butterfly Learning Garden, thanks to a dedicated team of faculty, staff and students.

The "gardeners" gathered recently for an official opening ceremony and to unveil benches dedicated in the memory of a late faculty member from the Department of Psychology, Dr. Jim Walker.

Kim Kelly, formerly of the Department of Career Development and Experiential Learning, said the idea to transform the garden was inspired by a conversation with a new faculty member in the Department of Biology.

Dr. Tom Chapman was looking for a place on campus where his Introductory to Entomology class could get up close with nature. So together they decided to make service-learning a part of his class requirements and gave students the option of giving their service to reclaiming the overgrown garden.

"Service-learning is the application of academic knowledge in service to the Newfoundland and Labrador community," explained Dr. Chapman. "This approach is powerful because we know that when students are active in the learning process, when they are doing something with impact, the knowledge gained is longer lasting."

Partnering with MUNDays, Pippy Park, the Botanical Garden, Project Green, Student Affairs and Services, Facilities Management, MUN Student Union, Biology Student Society and with help from faculty, staff, students, commercial nurseries and private citizens, the group behind the project were able to hold a number of service days involving over a hundred volunteers, transforming the little used area into a beautiful garden.

Hilary Alteen says her participation in the project may have started out as a way of getting out of building an entomology collection but became so much more.

"I've come to enjoy working in the garden and seeing the product of my hard work," she said. "At the end of the day you can really see the difference you are making on campus and it has got me thinking more globally and sustainably."

Dr. Lilly Walker says her husband would have appreciated the decision to turn the garden work into a service learning experience for students. That's why she decided to donate benches for the garden in his memory.

"Jim loved the whole enterprise of teaching and learning," she said. "He believed that students needed to apply their learning and he was an avid gardener. Everywhere we lived, he created gardens.

"In fact, he believed gardens and students had much in common," added Dr. Walker. "We plant many seeds, some germinate and others do not. He also knew that when plants are young you need to give them a lot of support, like our young learners. Yet there is a time when they can really blossom on their own. He also knew you had to fertilize plants differently, just as we need different learning styles for different students. So this garden is very symbolic of the man I loved."

The Walkers were both faculty members in the Department of Psychology, and she added that butterflies are also symbolic to those in that particular field.

"It has to do with the whole idea of transformation," she explained. "A caterpillar has to die before it becomes the butterfly. Such is the transformation we have as educators and psychologists – parts of us die so that others may live. So Jim, as he died, still lives. What better place to have at Memorial than a butterfly garden where students can learn, grow and evolve?"

The group is now looking for support to create an outdoor learning classroom. If you wish to help, have an idea for a service learning initiative, or are interested in incorporating it into your classroom environment, please contact the Career Development and Experiential Learning coordinator at 864-2607.