Jan Worth-Nelson • Lecturer, English Department
I’m a freshman composition and creative writing teacher. I’m a poet. I’m an essayist and fiction writer and just published my first novel, Night Blind, in 2006. And I’m a slowly evolving outdoors person. I think what’s happening to our beautiful earth is the central crisis of our time, and I’m trying to find ways to bring the issues of our trusteeship of the earth into my classes.
About a year and a half ago, the University Outreach staff reached out to faculty to ask for output on a big, new idea they had for a series of arts programs built around environmental issues. I joined in on the initial brainstorming and it hooked me. Outreach won a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation for the program, which eventually was called the Green Arts Program.
In the fall of ’06, I taught three classes built around Green Arts themes. Thanks to the grant money, I was able to take my students canoeing on the Flint River, and we brought in former U.S Poet Laureate Robert Hass, a longtime environmentalist with a special love for rivers and watersheds. My students wrote wonderful essays, poems and short stories. Two of them created a memorable video. And one of my students, Christopher Ruhlen, recently won a Hopwood Award for poems he wrote in one of the Green Arts classes.
University Outreach structures their efforts around three R’s: relationships, resources and results. The Green Arts Project, I think, is a sterling example of this three-part model. It dramatically opened up the possibilities for what and how my writing students could learn. It has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life as a faculty member at UM-Flint.