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Transcript: Living Lab:

Narrator: This fall, an impressive new science building, James M. Jeffords Hall, opened for business on the University of Vermont Campus. The building is full of high-tech research labs, where faculty explore the frontiers of knowledge. It also has new classrooms and seven state-of-the-art teaching labs for students studying biology, biochemistry and plant biology that are already popular. But as nice as the new labs are inside the building, it could be the one outside it that really sets Jeffords Hall apart.

Deb Neher, chair, Department of Plant and Soil Science: It's a place where these classes can just go right outside and they can have their lab. We don't have to drive clear across the state. It's right here.

Narrator: When the building and its landscape were still on the drawing board, plant and soil science chair Deb Neher had a big idea. For several months each year, the gardens planted around Jeffords Hall could serve not just a decorative function but an educational one. Classes ranging from horticulture to urban agriculture to plant physiology could have a hands-on learning lab right outside their door. To make it happen, she involved two of her faculty, including horticulturalist Mark Starrett, who helped plan and plant the garden.

Mark Starrett, associate professor, Department of Plant and Soil Science: I went and I sent an email out to the faculty of Plant and Soil Science and Plant Biology soliciting from them any input as far as what they'd like to see out in the gardens. Typically, it was based on the courses that they teach and the labs that they offer.

Narrator: Starrett also took other faculty requests into account and planned for his own horticulture classes. The result is an attractive garden which surrounds the building, which is also an educational of herbs, vegetables, flowers, even an arboretum.

Narrator: Plant biology professor Cathy Paris, who teaches a course on plant classification and evolution, sees great benefit in having a living laboratory right on her doorstep.

Cathy Paris, senior lecturer, Plant Biology: The plantings around the building are a remarkable asset to the teaching mission of the department and the college. This is a course that focuses on bio diversity and on plant structure. And although we're able to take the students during the laboratories for the course out into the natural areas like Niquette Bay State Park or Centennial Woods, when we're in the middle of a lecture here in the Jeffords Building, it is a real delight to be able to take students outside--to step right outside the door to the plantings around the building--and be able to say, "Look! Here's a member of the buttercup family we were just speaking of. Everybody grab a blossom and share it with your neighbor, and let's look at the way the pistols are inserted on the domed receptacle." If a picture's worth a thousand words, the actual living material is worth one hundred thousand.

Narrator: The advantage the garden brings to conventional classroom learning aren't lost on students.

Regina Vitiello, sophomore: When you look at them in person it's a lot easier to see their parts and examples of it, versus in the textbook sometimes it's hard to relate to. So when we actually go out in the field, and we apply it, it makes it easier to understand.

Narrator: Paris uses the garden to illustrate lessons have just learned. She also uses it to see if her lessons have taken.

Tess Ruswick, senior: Well, we take our tests out here, and our exams. So, she'll ask us specific questions on a plant in the garden, and that makes testing a little better.

Narrator: Paris says the nearby garden not only makes her teaching more effective, it also brings her subject to life for her students.

Paris: Botany is such a sensory experience. It's lovely. We all delight in the way flowers look and smell, but these students get to actually touch them and feel the rough texture of a sunflower stem, for example. And, it really does enliven it for them.

Narrator: Jeffords Hall is an important addition to the UVM campus, offering students a large and varied number of learning opportunities--both inside its walls and out.

Last modified January 07 2013 04:45 PM