For the last 35 years at the University of Kansas, Professor Helen Alexander has dedicated herself to advancing environmental education with the goal of making it accessible for all. On the occasion of her retirement from KU, we have the opportunity to celebrate her transformational impact by supporting her passion for field-based education.
Named Eminent Ecologist in 2019 by the British Ecological Society, it is no surprise that Helen’s work as a researcher, educator, and mentor has inspired 100s of KU students to dig deep into questions that have significantly advanced our understanding of plants, animals, and pathogen interactions and the effects of the environment on these interactions. Helen’s students have taken the knowledge and experiences gained under her mentorship to pursue exciting and successful careers in ecology, pedagogy, scientific communication, and environmental activism.
Central to Helen’s passion for teaching and mentoring has been her goal to take students outside, into nature. Immersed in the environment, she passes down keen insights into the histories of land use, geology and climate that shape local ecosystems. She tirelessly inspires curiosity, encouraging students to ask Why? And how? She shares her knowledge in search of answers to those question, and mentors students through the scientific process of seeking answers to the yet unexplored questions. Helen understands deeply that experiences in nature, with nature, are often the critical catalyst that ignites curiosity and a life-long passion for learning. She has ensured field-based course experiences for KU students in her role as a Professor and has promoted the same for local K-12 students by co-founding the Free State Prairie and restoration project.
To continue inspiring students by ensuring they have access to field-based experiences, Helen was instrumental in establishing Take it Outside! Field Experiences for Jayhawks. Already, her efforts are positively impacting our community. Your support, in the form of this contribution to Take it Outside! Field Experiences for Jayhawks, will help realize Helen’s goal that future generations of KU students have meaningful field course opportunities that spark a lasting passion for studying and protecting natural ecosystems.
ABOUT Take it Outside!
Environmental challenges of the 21st century include climate change, loss of biodiversity, and declining water quality, to name a few. For today’s students to work towards solutions, they need outdoor educational experiences in addition to traditional classroom instruction. Field courses provide students with essential hands-on and immersive experiences with nature. Valuable field courses include those focused on organisms—such as plants, birds, fish, or fungi—and on topics—such as aquatic ecology, prairie ecology, or soil science.
Our goal is to increase access to KU field courses and to develop courses that attract and retain students from diverse backgrounds. All courses will have a rigorous scientific basis, and we encourage the development of creative courses that also draw from disciplines across the university. Our priority is to utilize the KU Field Station because of its proximity to campus, diverse terrestrial and aquatic environments, and well-designed laboratory and greenhouse facilities.
Gifts will provide funding for the supplies and equipment necessary for field courses. They will also support instructional and transportation costs. Graduate student involvement in summer short course development will help these graduate students gain field and teaching experiences, as well as a source of summer income, extending the benefits of these courses to both undergraduate and graduate students at KU.
Many professionals trace their love and enthusiasm for science to engaging, hands-on field course experiences, yet these are disappearing from university curricula. KU has the scientists, environments, and facilities to make these life-changing experiences available to our students. Thank you for your gift to help support these learning opportunities!