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Teaching for Sustainability on the Bayou


Dr. Cathleen Becnel Richard is an Assistant Professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. She earned her doctorate in 2010 from Northcentral University in E-Learning and Teaching Online. Her research interests include academic advising, distance learning, reflective learning, and service learning.

Because higher education prepares most of the professionals who lead and influence society, Nicholls State University is making significant efforts to accelerate the process of providing the knowledge and graduates necessary to meet the great human challenge of sustainability. The seniors involved in the Making Waves along the Bayou Service-Learning Project are saving their precious bayou while learning about service, sustainability, and in particular, environmental protection.

Skyler reflects upon her experience.

The event that I based my service-learning sustainability project on was Clean up Bayou Lafourche, which took place on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Although this event was setup by Community Bank in Thibodaux, other businesses throughout Lafourche Parish hosted the same project that same day. Volunteers and Nicholls State students participated in picking up trash of all sorts in order to not only clean the environment, but also to help save Bayou Lafourche.

Volunteers had the option of either walking alongside the bayou, riding in pirogues in the bayou, or even riding in a larger boat to travel up and down the bayou to pick up the massive loads of trash that occupy the bayou’s banks. Volunteers were given supplies such as trash bags (one for recyclable items and another for remaining trash), gloves, and long trash-grabbing poles. The event was filled with much success in making the bayou cleaner.

I participated in this project because not only am I a very generally clean person, but I also love helping with anything that involves making our environment a better place. My family lives on the bayou side, therefore, I see the amount of trash that flows through Bayou Lafourche. I have always wanted to have the opportunity to do anything I could in order to take that trash out of our bayou. This is my second time participating in this annual event, and I thoroughly enjoy doing so. Many students from the Biology Department participate, as well, and use the results of the project in their studies. I find this very interesting, especially regarding the idea of working for some sort of business that specializes in helping the environment.

I believe this project to be very relevant to this senior seminar course. Participating in this event has opened the eyes of many regarding the well-being of our local environment. This course is partially designed to help students learn what they may be interested in pursuing following graduation and the fact that I enjoy helping the environment as much as I do may mean something more. Having participated in this project, I could easily see myself working with environmental biology and devoting my time in a future career to not only bettering the environment, but giving back to the community.

Carly describes her experience.

I did my service-learning sustainability project on the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program's “Clean up Bayou Lafourche” on March 15, 2014. This particular community service project was interesting, educational, and eye-opening about the importance of saving our bayous by keeping them clean. I was shocked at the transformation that Bayou Lafourche underwent that day. Just in my boat, we picked up over five sixty-gallon trash bags full of debris out of the bayou and off of the banks. This project helped me to understand the importance of volunteerism and the effect it has on others and myself. It opened my eyes to the endangerment of our wildlife, as well as the environment in which they live.

This service-learning opportunity is connected to my academic experience in this course because both teach you things about life. Cleaning up the bayou made me feel good about myself because I helped to make a difference in sustaining our area. This class gives me insight on how to prepare myself for real life challenges on a daily basis. By participating in “Clean up Bayou Lafourche,” I contributed my time to pick up trash left behind by careless people of humanity. A saying that really captures the service of that day is, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” We all have a vision of what we want Louisiana to look like, and we could not have achieved this dream land without the help of the many people who participated in this community service. I strongly believe that service and volunteerism will be a part of my future. The Paul Mitchell School of Cosmetology that I will be attending in August requires its students to participate in many non-profit organizations' fundraisers and volunteer work. I have volunteered myself many times since I was a teenager, and I do not see myself abandoning this great act of kindness anytime soon.


Without a doubt, this service-learning experience left an impression on our community as a whole. People thanked us for making the bayou behind their homes a cleaner and safer place. This experience has prepared me for a future of volunteerism and helping others. By participating in this event, I will be able to stand up for our environment and teach others the importance of sustainability and environmental protection. I think this service-learning project is relevant to the learning process, and I think it is necessary, too, to require students to reach out and give back to their community.

These students truly “got” the importance of service, sustainability, and course content. Their personal experiences were unique and invaluable. I am a teacher at heart who teaches with heart. When I witness the connection of self, subject, and student, it touches my heart. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?

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