Who would have ever thought the free-wheeling Outback would join the Associated Student’s bureaucracy just in time for a systematic makeover? The Outback emerges this quarter as the Outback Experiential Learning Program with a newly hired Associated Student employed director who has some detailed work ahead of her..
“The Outback could be—and will be—a crown jewel for Western; a statement of Western’s commitment to sustainability,” said Melanie Swanson, the new director of the Outback Experiential Learning Program.
In October of 2006, the Outback was successfully added into the realm of the Associated Students, being pushed through the AS board with a proposal headed by AS Vice President of Business and Operations, Stefan Kalb. The program is intended to organize, sustain and protect the Outback, the five-acre eco-sustainable landmass with community garden plots located behind Fairhaven Dorms.
Kalb described the Outback program, back in October, as practicing “organic and ecological land-use practices, sustainable design and technologies, experiential education, community outreach and events, and consensus based group decision-making.”
With the AS board’s approval of the program, a director position was designed for the OELP, and Kalb, along with a committee of three others, hired Melanie Swanson. Swanson was hired as director at the end of Fall Quarter, with the understanding that her position would become effective with the start of Winter Quarter.
In October, Kalb described the expectations of the director’s position: “The main job is to coordinate the gardens… and to coordinate between student and academics, because academics has a lot of interest in the space. Also, to coordinate work parties to maintain the space, and also run the day to day operations.”
Fortunately, Swanson has similar goals, “My main focus is to develop an organizational infrastructure that will allow the various projects to function in conjunction with one another, and to enable communication between individual students, classes that utilize the Outback for learning, and faculty. Mainly I hope to coordinate cleaning up and organizing different aspects of the Outback—from the tool shed to the individual garden plots,” Swanson said.
More specifically, Swanson is currently working on the more immediate and tangible aspects of the Outback. She’s focused on publicizing and organizing monthly work parties that are open to the public.
The focus of these work parties will be “taking on such projects as organizing the tool shed, blackberry eradication, revamping the compost system, and other projects,” Swanson said.
Swanson also hopes to instill a system where students would be more encouraged to tend their own garden plots more regularly.
“First and foremost I am passionate about people and dirt,” Swanson said. She went on to explain her impressive past experience leading trail crews in the Northwest, heading an AmeriCorps team doing disaster relief work in the South, and working on an organic farm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Swanson acknowledges the importance of the new program, and her newly created position. Though still in an infantile stage, the Outback program will provide a unique university-supported and environmentally positive setting.
“I believe ardently in the need to take action against the many destructive forces that we humans have created,” said Swanson, “and if universities across the country begin to see things a little ‘greener’ then thousands and thousands of young people will be influenced and affected by this action. Universities use a great deal of resources and have the potential to create a tremendous amount of waste and use a lot of energy—or they can be at the forefront of the movement towards sustainability and find ways of mitigating their destructive impact on the planet,” Swanson said.
Swanson and the OELP are always looking for more volunteers. Swanson can be reached in the OELP office in VU 424 and by e-mail at as.outback@wwu.edu.