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Landscape construction materials class creates colorful benches for ELI’s Community Garden

Landscape construction materials class creates colorful benches for ELI's Community GardenStudents in a landscape construction materials class taught by Anna Wik of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) recently helped colleagues from the English Language Institute (ELI) construct a set of benches to help with seating for classes and events at the ELI Community Garden.

Wik, assistant professor of landscape design in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said the purpose of the benches is to help create a central gathering space within the garden.

“The ELI garden has all sorts of workshops throughout the fall and spring semesters and they wanted benches that could be moved around so they could use that space a little more functionally. Right now, they don’t have any seating within the garden, or any potting space,” said Wik.

Kate Copeland, an instructor at ELI and the ELI Community Garden liaison, said that the operative word in the garden is “community.”

“The challenge was this – we have a garden but we don’t have a space in the garden where we can actually congregate as a community. People want to sit down, take a break, and enjoy the space in the garden, in addition to working on garden tasks,” said Copeland. “We wanted to create a gathering space inside the central area of the garden where we could just sit and talk with each other.”

Wik said that the pocket seating benches, which were designed by the class, are of varying sizes – 36 inches, 24 inches and 18 inches – and can be stacked under one another to make for convenient storage. They also can collapse and be put away for winter, and the design allows for multiple uses. The tallest one can actually be used as a table.

Sarah Morales, Rob Phipps, Hunter Perry, Matt Tjaden and Austin Virdin, all students in CANR, were the class members who took the initial idea from concept through documentation, and ultimately helped the ELI students to assemble the final product. The landscape construction materials course focuses on the interface between drawing and building, and this project was an opportunity for the students to focus on creating really clear graphics, without resorting to a lot of text to explain the process.

The project also gave ELI students a chance to interact with UD students in a hands-on, project based activity where they had an opportunity to practice their English language skills.

“It gave the ELI students an opportunity to interact with native English speaking UD students, which is often a challenge for them,” said Copeland who explained that in addition to teaching English grammar and vocabulary, the ELI also works to acculturate international students to the UD academic and social environment.

“There are lots of soft skills that we teach them in addition to the language that they’re learning, and the best way to do that is to give them opportunities to integrate with students and teachers in the larger UD campus,” Copeland said. “This was just one example of the opportunities we try to create to collaborate with other UD students, which is sometimes an unfamiliar experience for them.”

To facilitate the interaction, the benches were color coded, which gave Wik’s students the chance to visually represent the task so that the ELI students, of all different levels of language proficiency, could understand and participate in the project.

Wik’s students presented their design and had their materials all prepared for the 25 students who arrived to hear the presentation and get involved with the actual construction of the seating.

“The agriculture students gave directions and explained their process and talked about why it was important, and the ELI students were given the opportunity to ask questions. Anna and I facilitated as needed,” said Copeland.

Copeland added that the event was a success and that she is excited about potential future collaborations between the ELI Community Garden and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“This was basically a beginning, just bringing the materials class over to the garden and engaging them with our international students. Anna and I are very excited to see where it could go and we hope to have many other projects in the wings,” said Copeland.

About the Community Garden

The ELI Community Garden was started five years ago by a UD student organization with funding from the University’s Sustainability Task Force. Its mission, through the Food and Garden Policy Committee, has been to engage students and faculty across the University in learning experiences that explore sustainable best practices in gardening and food production.

Members of the UD community can rent beds for a very small fee with the stipulation that they participate in community events to which international students are invited.  Some ELI garden beds are also dedicated to service learning projects that produce food for charitable organizations such the Food Bank of Delaware.

Copeland said, “through content and project based learning, the ELI Community Garden offers marvelous English language development opportunities for the 700 plus international students that we teach in our intensive English program”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Wenbo Fan

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.