NRM, school of art students team on Mae Simmons Park restoration plan
By: Amanda Castro-Crist
In academia, an invisible line often separates the artists from the scientists. This spring, two Texas Tech professors got rid of that divide, bringing together graduate students from the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources and J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts in a collaborative course focusing on the art and science of ecological restoration.
Robert Cox, an associate professor of habitat restoration ecology, and David Lindsay, an associate professor of studio art, led a class of two students from the Department of Natural Resources Management and three students from the School of Art.
"As a scientist, I've thought for some time that science is really a creative endeavor in many ways," Cox said. "In restoration ecology, you're taking a damaged piece of land and trying to restore it to a former status. This is a creative act: you're designing in regard to which species you want to occur there, how the land will form and ecological functions. It's not often described as an artistic or creative endeavor, but it is, and if you think of it that way, it broadens the horizons of what you can do from the scientific standpoint."
Throughout the semester, students participated in interdisciplinary discussions and critiques, using science and art to draft a restoration plan for Lubbock's Mae Simmons Park, located at East 24th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Their efforts earned them a spot in Leonardo's Kitchen, the Museum of Texas Tech's rotating gallery that displays projects that bring together art, research and scholarship.
The exhibit, "The Art and Science of Restoration Ecology," will be on display until Sept. 25 and includes artistic interpretation and reactions to the site and scientific data gathered and interpreted by the students. Though the course has only been around for one semester, both professors said this first group of students laid the groundwork for what eventually could be an ongoing project between Texas Tech and the local community.
In preparation for class discussions, the students were assigned readings in ecology and art comparing and contrasting issues in both fields. Visits to the park followed the discussions, allowing the students not only to observe how the area changed over the course of the semester, but to also incorporate aspects of the site into their own research as they began working on their restoration plan. The visits also allowed students to collaboratively evaluate the areas that needed the most attention, like restoring the native indigenous species to beautify and diversify the area's ecology.
"We each got to see our own fields of study from another point of view," said Matthew Jackson, a natural resources management graduate student. "Through my eyes as an ecologist, I see the landscape as a mixture of plants and wildlife habitat. Artists see the landscape more as a collection of patterns and anomalies that stand out from the rest. Both work toward a common goal in a sense. They want to discover what the world is and share what they find."
The interdisciplinary aspect of the course was a favorite of Garret Langlois, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Natural Resources Management and one of the course instructors for the department's most widely enrolled course, Introduction to Natural Resources Management.
"I spend nearly all my professional time among scientists, who certainly have a useful and rigorous world view," Langlois said. "However, it's both humbling and reinvigorating to be reminded that science isn't the only approach humanity takes to perceive and experience existence."
CONTACT: Mark Wallace, Chairman, Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2841 or firstname.lastname@example.org
0619NM18 / Editor's Note: For a full-text version of Amanda Castro-Crist's article from the Texas Tech Office of Communications & Marketing article, click here
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