The mulched pathways with tall, shady trees in the Environmental Center on the Miami Dade College Kendall Campus are worlds away from the concrete block building and loud crowds of students at the center of campus.
The nine-acre native nature preserve is a peaceful place where both the community and MDC students can experience the beauty of Florida’s ecology first-hand.
“It educates students on environmental benefits, pesticides that infest plants and how to treat them, as well as teach the benefits of maintaining wildlife,” said Valerie McCurdy, Program Manager at the Environmental Center.”
Students are able to immerse themselves in the ecosystems of South Florida such as Pine Rockland and Hardwood Hammock without having to leave campus.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Kendall Campus radiography student Michelle Sabol dressed in a wide -brim sun hat and long sleeve shirt came to the Environmental Center to complete service learning hours. She brought her own kneeling board, gardening gloves and work apron.
“It worked for me. It’s close to work and home,” Sabol said. “I also like helping here because children come here to learn about animals and the environment.”
Sabol thinks MDC students who do service learning at the Center need to be better prepared for the weeding and clearing they are assigned. She suggests dressing for physical work and sun exposure.
“I also feel like I need more education on the environment subject before I begin my volunteering,” Sabol said.
Approximately 30 to 50 students do service learning at the Center each semester.
“[I] get calls from faculty asking if they can hold their classes at the Environmental Center on a weekly basis,” McCurdy said.
Initiated more than 30 years ago, today the Environmental Center offers a variety of classes, field trips, and workshops for children and adults.
“Other environmentally related courses we have in our rotation are Butterfly Gardening and Organic Gardening,” McCurdy said. “We are also working on developing classes in orchid care, permaculture, and beekeeping.”
A part of the School of Continuing Education and Professional Development on Kendall Campus, the majority of the funding comes from the admission the center charges for field trips. In 2013, approximately 3,500 students from the community visited the Environmental Center.
The new Visitor Pavilion is a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum Certified building that runs entirely on solar energy which supports the building’s lights, fans, and even a television used for presentations.
“We collect rainwater from the roof in a cistern which is used in the building’s water hose,” McCurdy said. “Whether you are interested in service learning, have an idea for a class, or want to bring a group to the Environmental Center, we encourage you to contact us.”
The MDC Environmental Center, 1011 SW 104 St., Room 5127 is located next to the baseball field. It is free and open to the public every second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 305-237-0905.