Greece trip combines science and business studies

Citizenship, business sense and science came together for a few weeks this summer as 10 Drury students traveled to Greece to study geography and the environment.

The group traveled to Aigina, Greece – a town on an island of the same name where the university has a satellite campus called the Drury Center. They spent three weeks working in two teams. One team focused on the physical geography of the Aigina coastline by conducting water quality tests and studying marine debris. The other team addressed cultural geography by studying how recycling and composting can help local agriculture.  Both projects were connected to real life on Aigina with the active participation and expertise of local farmers and civic leaders.

“The Drury Center was amazing,” said professor of the class, Dr. Sean Terry. “They set up meetings with local experts and even translated from Greek to English in live interviews.  This local knowledge inspired our students about local sustainability efforts.

The students conducted academic research in advance so they could more easily focus on actual fieldwork once they arrived, Terry says, adding that they were able to “see how science can be applied in real-world situations to make a positive difference in a community.”

DU students in Aigina

Despite the science focus of this class, most of the students weren’t science majors – nine of the 10 were business majors. A study abroad experience is required of all students in Drury’s Breech School of Business. The trip and its impact on the students illustrate Drury’s interdisciplinary approach to education and engaged learning.

“This was my first trip abroad and it was the most enlightening trip on which I’ve ever been,” said student Jesse Allard. “It was a completely new experience seeing another culture and really trying to immerse myself within it.”

Results from each project highlighted the need to increase local participation in environmental initiatives. Water quality tests at several beach locations came up clean, but plastic trash on shore was an issue. The beach team cleaned up approximately 600 pounds of plastic waste in two days, and the Drury Center itself is committed to a plan that will see Drury students “adopt” Colona Beach permanently. It is hoped that this could lay the groundwork for local schools to “adopt a beach” and maintain the momentum in the future. The students met with local environmental leaders and a middle-school principal in order to learn how the adoption efforts might move forward.

“The projects were a great way to connect with the local community members and make a difference that will be visible to all people who visit the island of Aigina,” says Mallory Long, a junior majoring in accounting and finance.

Ryan Fitzgerald, a senior biology major, said the trip has already changed the way he lives at home.

“The influence that the project has had on my daily actions at home is incredible,” he says. “I have begun to recycle more and look for any chance to help make a cleaner world.”

The second team learned about the relationships between agriculture, solid waste and the Aigina economy. The island currently ships in much of the fertilizer used by local farmers and ships away its trash because of lack of landfill space. All of that costs money, and there’s currently an effort on Aigina to increase composting of food waste to reduce these shipping and hauling costs. Food waste typically makes up 30 to 40 percent of the trash we throw away, Terry says.

“Our study was to calculate the potential benefit of taking that food and separating it from the trash and composting it on the island. Would there be a local use for it and a local market for it?” Terry says.

The head of the local composting association and the president of the farmers’ association both agreed that composting is not only a benefit, it is becoming an economic necessity. A project in Kalamata, Greece, indicated that local farmers and the community can both benefit from the use of fertilizer made from local food waste. A composting demonstration hosted by the Kalamata group drove home how science, the community, and government must all be involved in order to solve this type of problem.

“In a short period of time, this group of students was able to apply concepts they were learning in the classroom to the local context through meaningful engagement with community leaders,” says Eleni Dellagrammaticas, director of the Drury Center in Aigina.

The community nature of the projects made an impact on Jesse Allard, a senior accounting major.

“It was so much fun to see the community members so interested and excited about the work we were setting up,” Allard says. “They genuinely appreciated what we were doing and wanted to be involved.  I think studying abroad is essential. As the world becomes ‘smaller,’ I think it is more important than ever to understand and appreciate other cultures so we can all work together and maximize the potential of the human experience.”

Terry hopes the groundwork laid during this experience can be used by future Drury students to help explain the global nature of sustainability issues.

“I was so impressed by the progressive ideas of the Aigina community,” he said. “The beauty of the island, and the passion of the local people to improve it make it a perfect learning laboratory for our students.”

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Story by Mike Brothers, Drury’s director of media relations. A version of this story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.