This fall, seven students are taking part in the sustainability semester at the Merry Lea Learning Center. They are the first to take part in the program.

The Sustainability Semester offers students a unique way to spend a fall semester at Goshen College. The program involves living at Marry Lea’s Reith Village, a platinum-rated LEED® Facility. The students are grouped together as part of a cohort and spend the semester living and studying together.

The semester is 15 credit hours and consists of four classes, with a final project at the end. The classes deal with different areas of study related to sustainability. Luke Gascho, executive director of Merry Lea, described it as "an interdisciplinary semester with a focus on sustainability.” The classes include a landscape limnology class, a sustainability and regenerations class, a faith and ethics class relating to sustainability and an environmental policy class.

After completing the sustainability semester, students would only need to take one more class in order to pick up a sustainability minor from Goshen College, giving students from all majors an opportunity to participate, not just environmental science students.

"Because we don’t have to worry about any other classes on campus or anything like that, we can really be immersive,” Gascho said of the program.

In the first week, called the headwater week, students spent time getting to know Merry Lea by hiking its trails and canoeing in the waterways. The second week was the "downriver week," in which students took a canoe trip down the Elkhart River, eventually meeting up with the St. Joseph River and taking that to Lake Michigan. Along the way students stopped at predetermined locations to meet with people who interact with the river and learn the role it plays in their lives.

Through the semester, students will also spend time brainstorming a solution to an environmental problem of their choice. This will be a big part of the semester, as the students will spend the last several weeks of the semester working on and finalizing their work. Jonathon Schramm is the professor working with the students on their projects.

“The goal behind the course is application of what [students] learned during the semester,” explained Schramm.

One of the projects students have chosen to take on this semester is designing a sustainable solution to drain off storm water on GC's campus, a million dollar problem facing many cities. Another such project will focus on sustainable farming in Noble County, where Merry Lea is located, and a forest health and tree community map of Merry Lea.

Follow the Sustainability semester at