A Natural Fit

Environmental studies is a natural fit for RU, given its location in a region rich in natural resources, assets like Selu Conservancy and strong academic programs such as geology and biology.

Faculty members from every corner of campus have been – and still are – at work on projects that touch a wide variety of environmental issues. The preservation work at Wildwood Park is an example.

Wildwood, located two miles from campus in central Radford, has been a somewhat forgotten and overlooked treasure within the city. Area residents and the university community agreed that with an emphasis on heritage- and nature-based education, the 50-acre wooded valley greenway could once again be a viable resource for learning and leisure activities.

Guinan says “That’s been a community outreach project that has engaged a broad range of faculty and students.”

Guinan believes her first impression of RU was right on target – the university offers the sort of atmosphere that is conducive to collaboration and exploration. The enthusiasm she’s witnessed just since the beginning of the school year will bridge disciplines, she said.

“I could see individuals getting involved from economics, social work, local health and welfare agencies, urban ecologists and even interior design,” Guinan says.

Dance professor Peggy Hunt envisions holding an environmental dance composition class by the Little River at Selu and recently shared her dream with Guinan.

Bob Sheehy, a colleague of Guinan’s in the biology department, knows what all the buzz is about as far as natural resources are concerned. He has a colony of between 50,000 and 75,000 worker bees at Selu and oversees the production of “pure Selu wildflower honey” that he has dubbed “Highlander Gold.”

Sheehy harvested 500 pounds of honey from five hives at Selu last year and has an observation hive in Reed-Curie Hall as well. He gives some of his “gold” to the RU Foundation, which uses it as gifts.

“We also donate to local non-profits, organizations such as Pathways for Radford, and the Biology Club for their fundraising events,” Sheehy says.

Bob Sheehy with HoneyComb Like bees to honey, students should be attracted to the center as it develops and expands.

RU already has formed a partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national organization that provides internships for college students. Guinan will be building a web site where ambitious students can find out more about internships and research the latest trends in ecological and conservation studies and careers. “I want students to see what’s out there in the world,” Guinan says. “They can make a living doing things they never thought about.”

Guinan says RU already is strong in relevant course offerings, with popular classes in environmental studies, engineering geosciences and geographic information systems serving as complements to the center. Another benefit to students is exposure to diverse career options that are not obvious.

Careers in geographic information systems, for example, can lead to scientific research, criminal investigations, resource management, construction planning, marketing, medicine and business. The computer-based system assembles, stores and displays geographical data and breaks it down according to specific localities.

Guinan and Liss plan to establish an advisory committee for the center, identify needs, assess faculty interests, secure grant funding and develop a strategic plan with specific goals and objectives.

Guinan knows it will be crucial for her to aggressively seek funding from outside agencies. “There is a lot we can do without money but money is still going to be needed for

projects. Financial resources are out there. We’re going to find them,” she says.

In between full-time teaching, Guinan will be out and about making the center’s presence more visible on campus and in the region. She’ll be mustering up more support for a center that could become yet another treasure grounded among the hills and valleys of Southwest Virginia.

With a natural knack for making the earth a healthier and happier place – she’s nursed seals and sea lions at a marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center in California and taught everything from avian behavior to genetics at Hollins University – Guinan knows the road ahead.

Wildlife, aquatic species, the natural grasslands and the natural beauty of the area make learning and exploring a joy and a challenge, she says.

“So many creeks and rivers are damaged in today’s environment, but some in this area still appear to be healthy,” she says. Guinan says the Appalachian Mountains are home to an unusually high number of salamander species that are found nowhere else. She was excited to learn there is also a high diversity in terms of crayfish species.

“You think about the New River, Little River, the Appalachian Trail, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Selu – the beauty and availability of such places make RU the perfect location for a center such as this,” she says.

She also has one other big thing in her favor.

“My job is a whole lot easier because people already know that what we have at RU is something very special. I don’t have to go out and convince anyone of that.”

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