- Reconnaissance Trip
- A Deeper Dive Into Effective Engagement and How to Achieve It
- Future Partnership Projects
- Final Thoughts
As can be seen throughout many aspects of our everyday lives, polarization has become increasingly more common and more intense. This is especially true for any issues thought of as “political”, which includes any number of problems that have arisen due to climate change. This polarization has made it exceedingly difficult to adequately address most of these issues as no-one can agree on the best practices or if there are even any problems to begin with! As such, ENVS 295 has been developed to give students a course that helps teach methods of engagement and strengthen our abilities to bridge differences of opinions successfully.
In addition, 295 was formed as a way to give students an opportunity to connect with different organizations around Portland, the greater Willamette Valley, and ultimately globally. The relationships created between students and these organizations can be incredibly valuable for both sides; it helps students develop professional contacts and provides a space to practice many of the engagement skills taught throughout this class. On the opposite end it gives organizations an influx of thoughtful young voices to add to their own, potentially giving them new ideas and helping them keep a finger on the pulse of issues impacting younger communities.
These goals were set out to be achieved a number of different ways. A mandatory “reconnaissance” trip was led by Professor Jim Proctor as a way for students to meet different organizations around Oregon and get a sense of the varying engagement practices that each used. A large chunk of class time was then devoted to a deeper dive into issues surrounding engagement and effective action and how to best create thoughtful engagement practices. This deeper knowledge was then applied to specific organizations -some of who we had already visited during our reconnaissance trip- as groups of students met with select organizations and started to get to know each them.
As mentioned earlier, the class was started with two day trip spent visiting a number of different organizations around northwest Oregon. Organizations visited were:
- Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum
- Columbia River Intertribal Fisheries Enforcement office
- Hood River Forest Collaborative
- Champoeg State Heritage Area (with lectures by Liza J. Schade and Judy Gates Goldmann)
- Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (with lecture by Oregon Farm Bureau President Barb Iverson)
- Willamette Valley Egg Farm
- Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN)
This trip gave students an opportunity to see how complicated engagement strategies are used in the real world. It also allowed for students to reflect on ways that they felt engagement was working for these organizations, as well as any potential for it to be improved.
Additionally, this trip also presented students with the unique opportunity to witness firsthand how organizations with opposing goals try to engage with each other, and many students were quick to realize just how much more work needed to be done in this regard. This was especially applicable for the visits both with Barb Iverson and PCUN. As Iverson is the head of the Oregon Farm Bureau, she lobbies hard for initiatives that protect the livelihood of those who own farms. PCUN, on the other hand, was created to help protect the rights of migrant workers. Thus, they are often positioned fighting for opposite goals. This was especially noticeable with the rising threat of the Spotted Lantern Fly. A more thorough exploration of this difference can be found under the Engagement heading here.
After returning to campus, this trip was finalized over the next couple of days by dividing students into groups. Each group was assigned one of the organizations we visited to write a blog post analyzing their visit and how it relates to the larger topic of engagement.
A Deeper Dive Into Effective Engagement and How to Achieve It
With the reconnaissance trip over we then took an even deeper dive into theories of successful engagement. This started again by dividing the class into partnership groups, with each group focusing on a specific organization within Oregon. We then learned about Effective Action, and applied it within our groups to our specific organizations. Next, the class was divided into three weeks, with each week individually focusing on the “What“, “Who“, and “How” of effective engagement as it pertained to each group’s organization.
As I was a part of the group working with the Hood River Forest Collaborative, I quickly became far more knowledgable about how the groups functions and how they strive for effective engagement. After talking with them during the reconnaissance trip and marveling at how diverse the voices within the group were, it was incredibly useful to take a deep dive and see just how the Collaborative works in action. This also helped illuminate some struggles that the Collaborative face and made us apply the knowledge we learned from our deep dive to try and come up with solutions.
Future Partnership Projects
With the deep dive wrapped up and applied to our partnership groups we then looked forward to creating future projects to collaborate on with each. In person meetings or video calls between each partnership group and their organization were planned to touch base and start building greater knowledge with regards to each organizations workings. Through this ever-building dialogue, plans for projects between these organizations and upcoming students were then going to be presented on-campus at Festival of Scholars. However, due to the continuing disruption caused by COVID-19, many of these interviews have been postponed and Festival of Scholars was ultimately canceled. While this obviously puts a significant dent in our plans for the rest of this course, continuing engagement with a number of these partnership organizations will continue and future projects will still be developed in some fashion.
Even with the uncertainties about the rest of the semester, this course has already achieved a number of very important things. It has helped build background knowledge about engagement practices and creates a framework of effective engagement for students to apply to countless real life scenarios. 295 also helps provide some of those real life scenarios by allowing students to work closely with a number of different organizations and get real life practice with these incredibly important issues. While grappling with these complicated struggles is rarely easy and certainly can leave students frustrated (I can definitely attest to this), it is incredibly important work that must be done as we get ready to take our skills to the outside world and grapple with these real world struggles. Practicing engagement can be really challenging and really uncomfortable at times, but it is a form of consensus building that is incredibly needed right now and it seems like it could actually work, at least with some issues.