University of Wisconsin–Madison

Student Engagement Grant supports student writing and wellness in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve

Last spring Ph. D student Kassia Shaw challenged the students in her English 201 Intermediate Composition & Rhetoric class to explore the way that writing in and about nature impacts their overall well-being and identity. Students kept a 5-week journal where they recorded the changes within a single nature space in the Preserve, as well as respond to reflective writing prompts connecting to that week’s readings.

If you think back to last spring you’ll remember the unseasonably cold and snowy weather. Instead of viewing spring ephemerals and budding trees, the students reported snow and ice covered trails and benches. Still, according to Shaw, the students insisted on visiting their journaling spots twice a week.

While the students were reflecting on nature and persevering through the cold, Shaw was interested in how the nature writing experience benefited student physical and emotional well-being, as well as how it might support nature-based mindfulness practices within future writing classrooms. Shaw was awarded a 2018 Lakeshore Nature Preserve Student Engagement Grant to support her research.

After completing the journal the students practiced qualitative research methods to better understand reoccurring themes and patterns in their writing. The students ended the unit by creating digital storytelling videos that highlighted their journaling experiences.

In general, students reflected on the importance of quiet reflective places on campus and the student’s place and connection to nature. The most common feedback students gave was the way that writing in nature provided them with stress-relieving and health-boosting benefits. One student put it this way, “The most valuable thing I learned was nature’s effect on me. Taking time out of my day to sit in nature for a while really highlighted the contrast between the busyness and stress of school with the tranquility of nature.”

Shaw looks forward to continuing to bring students to the Preserve, and exploring the ways in which nature-based curriculum support student wellness.