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Freshmen uncover leadership potential in tending PSU garden
Author: Jenny DuVander, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: June 25, 2012

Twenty-five freshmen have spent the last year caring for a large plot in the Portland State Community Garden as part of a first-year course that links food, art, and social responsibility.

They inherited the garden from last year’s freshmen who took  the same course, and will now hand off the plot to the students that will follow.

The Freshman Inquiry, or “FRINQ,” course taught by Sarah Newlands is part of the Living Learning Community option for first-year students—meaning all of the students live on campus and join in activities, such as cooking classes and workshops, that enhance their freshman experience.

“PSU has an untapped source of leaders in its freshman class,” said Andrea Gorman, a student who organizes and mentors students in the course. Gorman and three other students applied for a Solutions Generator award to expand the programming around the FRINQ Legacy Garden in 2012-2013.

The students have joined in work parties this past year to maintain the garden’s vegetables. In April, the class toured the Wealth Underground Farm and practiced their cooking skills by making breakfast with local, farm-fresh produce. And in May, the students used vegetables harvested from their garden plot to prepare brunch for the Open Engagement Conference, an event hosted by the art department.

Beyond growing vegetables, the garden is an opportunity to develop student leadership.

“Giving freshmen these leadership opportunities sets up these students to be leaders throughout their years at PSU and carry these skills into the work they will do throughout their lives,” Gorman said. “We saw the leadership potential come to life this year.”

Students teamed up in groups and wrote hypothetical grant proposals for sustainability projects they were passionate about, such as creating a cooking club for undergraduate students to promote healthy eating, and a program for more effective recycling methods in the Ondine housing building. These projects could become future Solutions Generator grantees and become reality on campus.  

In addition to Gorman, the student awardees for the FRINQ Legacy Garden Solutions Generator project are Danielle Ali-Cassim, Keith Nevison, and Natalie Caceres. Solutions Generator is a program of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions that funds student ideas to make campus and community more sustainable.