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Valuing Central Florida’s diverse ecosystems

Sandhill workdayCentral Florida hosts a unique array of ecosystems, ranging from pinewoods and freshwater marshes to swamps and coastal dunes, which give home to everything from deer and alligators to bass and sea turtles. It is in the midst of such nature and landscapes that Volusia County has fostered lively cultures.

This landscape will be the inaugural subject in Learn Local, a new lecture series focused on DeLand and the surrounding area. Sponsored by Stetson University’s American Studies Program in the College of Arts & Sciences, it will feature a range of faculty and community members who will speak about their research on DeLand as well as the larger Florida area. From restoring an ecosystem, to analyzing small-town tourism and revisiting Stetson’s fight for civil rights, this work can aid in our understanding of national and global issues.

The inaugural event, Saving a Sandhill: Restoring a Longleaf Pine Ecosystem at the Gillespie Museum, will be held on Thurs., Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. in the Rinker Environmental Learning Center, 234 E. Michigan Ave., DeLand, Fla. Karen Cole, Ph.D., director of the Gillespie Museum, and Cindy Bennington, Ph.D., professor of biology, will discuss the Volusia Sandhill Ecosystem. (In photo above by Peter May, Ph.D., professor of biology, Stetson students in BY 305 Flora of Florida, help establish understory plants in the Volusia Sandhill Ecosystem.)

Their workshop will take place behind the Rinker Environmental Learning Center, providing an interactive history with “A Teaching Landscape,” an acre of land in its fourth year of development, where students and experts alike have participated in the restoration and preservation of a once-immense forest of longleaf pine.

“This project is many things at once,” explained Cole, “a site of environmental and cultural interest; an outdoor classroom and research site; a partnership between Stetson and our community; a living museum without walls.”

“Stetson students who have worked in the restoration site have been exposed to both the value of conservation in an increasingly human-dominated landscape as well the value of educating others through programs sponsored by the museum that bring thousands of visitors to the site each year,” Bennington added.

Rebecca Watts, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and media studies, and Emily Mieras, Ph.D., associate professor of history and American studies, are coordinating the Learn Local series of lectures.

“Learn Local enhances Stetson University’s reputation for being connected to and feeling a sense of responsibility for our institution’s home in Central Florida,” said Watts. “Multiple Stetson faculty members and students are engaged in research embedded in and informed by the life of our local community.”

“We’ve launched the series to showcase the fascinating work many Stetson community members are doing on local topics,” said Mieras, “from the environmental to the historical, from the scientific to the societal. We’re planning to highlight work from across the University, as well as inviting outside speakers. We believe the series highlights the diversity and interdisciplinary status of Stetson’s intellectual engagement with the city, the county, and the region.

“Local research strengthens our ties with our local communities,” Mieras continued. “Understanding the place where we are—and using that understanding to improve our knowledge of national and global issues—is essential to shaping strong global citizens.”

Additional Learn Local events planned for 2014-15 include:

  • In October, Mieras will present “Marketing the ‘Athens of Florida:’ Nostalgia, Historical Memory and Community Identity in Central Florida,” her research on how DeLand brands itself through nostalgic representations of its past.
  • Orlando author and Emmy Award-winning journalist Bob Kealing (of NBC affiliate WESH-2), will speak on his book Tupperware Unsealed (soon to become a feature film starring Sandra Bullock), in which he explores the Central Florida roots of the iconic homemaking brand, including its connection to the DeLand community.
  • Watts will present along with students from her Civil Rights Movement course about their collaboration to commemorate the 50 anniversary of the racial integration of Stetson through archival research and oral history interviews with some of the Stetson’s very first African-American students.

Those interested in participating in Learn Local, contact Emily Mieras, history and American studies, emieras@stetson.edu, or Rebecca Watts, communication and media studies, rwatts@stetson.edu.

by George Salis