What’s In a Prairie?

You have heard Illinois called the Prairie State, but do you know what a prairie is? Hint: it’s NOT weeds!

Before the state was settled, 60 percent of Illinois (22 million+ acres) was covered by vast expanses of tallgrass. The deep  prairie plants’ roots (up to 15 feet!) make topsoils incredibly productive, and thus fertile for agriculture.  The invention of the John Deere self-scouring plow in 1837 made it possible to break up the prairie sod and change it into farmland. Many prairies still existed at that time, however, because there was too much water in many soils to farm well. By 1935, enough drain tile had been laid in Illinois to thoroughly drain off the soil water into drainage ditches, allowing the productive soils to be intensely farmed. 

Today, only 2,000 acres of prairie remain in Illinois (that’s .0001 percent).

You might be familiar with big bluestem, Illinois’ official prairie grass, but did you know there are about 150 kinds of grasses native to  prairies, including Indian grass, wild rye, and switchgrass? Native prairie wildflowers (forbs) include coneflowers, compass and cup plants with their bright yellow flowers, and milkweeds–the only plant species that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on. Prairies also provide habitat for hundreds of animal species. Check out the Illinois Plant Information Network database, which lists 851 species of plants native to Illinois prairies. 

Parkland’s prairie restoration, located due east of the Student Union, was started in the 1990s through the efforts of former biology professors Rich Blazier and Earl Creutzberg, along with community members and organizations and Parkland students. Today’s environmental and plant biology students learn about prairie and other ecosystems in Parkland’s natural land areas and regularly participate in prairie workdays, learning how to maintain prairies by collecting seeds, helping with prairie burns, and removing invasive plants.

Parkland’s Sustainable Campus Committee and Physical Plant hope to expand the prairie restoration by about 15 acres, including large tracts behind the Athletics track and small showy native flower beds by the buildings. This could eliminate hours of mowing, lowering the college’s carbon footprint by reducing fuel use. It also means beautiful flowers throughout the growing season. Planting tallgrass prairie costs less than planting turf grass, and requires little maintenance. Tallgrass prairie helps control drainage, prevents erosion, brings important pollinators to the area, and reminds us of our natural heritage.

 

Jonathan from Illinois Soil and Water Conservation
Jonathan from Illinois Soil and Water Conservation District loads prairie seed into the planter.

Parkland biology professor Heidi Leuszler recently worked with Pheasants Forever to establish a new one-acre tallgrass prairie across the Perimeter Drive in front of the union. The seed mix included about 75 species of prairie plants native to east-central soils.

Now that you know about Parkland’s prairie restoration, watch from the big windows in the welcome areaor better yet, walk right out the front door—to see how prairie changes over the seasons, and observe the wildlife that finds a safe home in Parkland’s prairie.

Persistence, Paying Off.

ARC_image

It takes persistence to complete a college degree; Sharon Nava can attest to this fact more than most. A published poet in addition to a returning student, Sharon has a story (below) that mirrors many others here at Parkland’s Adult Re-entry Center.  She is on course to complete a degree in May 2016, a date that corresponds with another milestone date in her life.

********

I first came to Parkland in 1990 after the company I worked for shut down. The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) folks came in and gave us a choice: They could help find us another job or send us to school to retrain for a new one. I’ve always loved learning, so I scanned the Parkland catalog and found a program that they would agree to send me to. I graduated with my certificate as a Pharmacy Technician in 1991, on the 25th anniversary of my high school graduation!

I continued to take classes off and on, but I had to stop when my husband became terminally ill. By now, I had retired, and I spent many hours praying for help in determining where I needed my life to go. One morning, I received a message that I needed to pursue what makes me happy, and since then I’ve been back here at Parkland taking classes.

I plan to attend my graduation, earning my associate’s degree in General Studies in May 2016—the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation!

********

You’re never too old to improve yourself; you just have to stick with it. The Adult Re-entry Center can help you write the next chapter of your life’s story, just as we’re helping Sharon.  Call or e-mail me to discuss your options: Call 217/351-2462 or email me at finishyourdegree@parkland.edu. You can also stop by Room U233 to set up a visit.

PTK Helps with Hunger

[Jenny Olmsted, regional president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, invites you out to the Student Union this week to give back to your community.]

Did you know that 1 in 5 children in eastern Illinois struggles with hunger? Did you also know that currently 28% of the land slated for agriculture is used yearly to produce food that will be wasted or lost?

This is food, free food, that could be going to hungry mouths.

An even scarier fact is that our global population is predicted to rise to roughly nine billion people by 2050 from our current seven billion, and we can’t even feed all the people we have now with our current agricultural practices.

Yet we can surely try, and we are!

Phi Theta Kappa food drive boxes.
Phi Theta Kappa food drive boxes.

Parkland’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa —the largest and most prestigious honor society of two-year colleges—is hosting a Food Drive and an Environmental Awareness Table this week, November 17–21, in the Student Union. Please come out and donate some food or funds, or just stop by to learn something new about the environment and what you personally can do to help. The table times are listed below:

MONDAY: 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m. (Green-out day)

TUESDAY: 3– 5 p.m. (Ecosystem day)

WEDNESDAY: 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m. (Skip a meal)

THURSDAY: 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (Trash day)

FRIDAY: 10 a.m.–1 p.m. (Farmer day)

All food will be donated to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank on December 2, the “Day of Giving.” This means that the food you donate will stay in our community and be directly donated to those who need it in our area. Since Parkland’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter will not be donating the food until December 2, please feel free to make donations up until then. A donation box will be placed in Parkland’s Student Life office in the Student Union after this event. Food items needed most are beans, canned fruit, canned veggies, cereal, jelly, macaroni and cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, peanut butter, soup, and rice.

Also have you heard of kiva.org? This is where 100% of your monetary donations will go. Kiva.org is a nonprofit organization “with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Check it out for yourself. (Here is Phi Theta Kappa’s team link.)

Parkland’s PTK chapter is also spreading awareness about food production and how it has impacted our environment over the years during this time. Each day of the week will present a new theme with new action items that we all could do to help out. So if you can’t donate, still stop by to learn something new!

Monday’s theme was Green-out day. People came to campus dressed in green to show their support for our environment. Tuesday’s theme highlighted our ecosystem and how the species within our environment have been impacted both positively and negatively by agricultural practices.

Wednesday is Skip a Meal Day! Parkland’s chapter is not encouraging people to skip a meal but rather to raise awareness in regards to how a lot of people have no choice but to skip a meal or two. After your lunch purchase, you have the option of donating your leftover change!

Thursday’s theme is Trash Day. Do you know how much trash is generated by the food you purchase? Stop by to find out! And lastly, Friday’s theme is Farmers Day. With the increasing global population, more food has to be produced somehow and somewhere. Stop by to learn more. Our farmers work hard to ensure that the production of our food is efficient and sustainable, so don’t forget to thank a farmer this Friday!

Parkland’s Phi Theta Kappa Chapter hopes to see you there!

7 Ways to TANK Your Grades While There’s Time

Okay, so you’ve checked your midterm grades on my.parkland and you’re doing  fine: No “underwater grades” (below C level), you’ve made a good impression on your teachers, and you just might succeed!

Don’t worry, though; there are still LOTS of ways you can take all that hard work and money and flush it away! Here are just seven!

from table 028
Flushing away your good grades is easy. Photo by Sue Jones.

1.  It’s cold and dark now in the morning…go ahead, sleep in. Sure, you know that when you went in early and looked over your notes in D120 before class, everything made more sense; but now… it’s dark! Don’t be smart and figure out what will propel you from the covers (i.e., set the thermost to go on when it’s time to get up, turn that light on, put the alarm clock across the room, get a cat, make coffee, whatever!). Just sleep your good grades away.

Big_feet_(521365548)
“Big feet ” by Cyndy Sims Parr. Creative Commons license (521365548).

2.  Hang out with people who aren’t studying. They’re having a good time! Plus, they’re not concerned with your goals and dreams, so they won’t mind if your grades go down.

3,  Don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Celebrate Thanksgiving Week!  You have a lot to be thankful for. Surely you’ll need more than just two days off to express your thanks.  What’s a couple of days of missed assignments or quizzes, anyway?

4.  Lost your notes? Don’t even bother to look for them. Look back over the old material before you do tonight’s work; that’s what successful students do! Find somebody else who can share? Review for the final? That’s the stuff that might get you on the Dean’s List, so you’d better not!

5,  Text, sleep, and get all that social stuff done in class. You started out the year paying attention and taking good notes, but now you’ve figured out where to sit so the instructor can’t tell if you’re sleeping or on your phone (well, s/he probably can, but….) You’ll figure this stuff out later, right? Like when you’re hanging out with your friends who aren’t taking classes.

6.  Don’t bother to withdraw from classes you’re not doing well in.  After all, it is such a pain: You should meet with an advisor and financial aid to see how withdrawing will affect your academic or financial aid standing, then physically go to Admissions (second floor, Student Union) to fill out a withdrawal form. And they want you to do this by a specific date? Ugh.

7.  Give up when the going gets tough. You’ve fallen behind, and it will take more work than you want to put into it to get back up to speed. Well, no, you don’t even really know how badly you’re doing, but… ask? Face your fears? Heaven forbid you should talk to your instructor or visit D120 and ask for some help; asking for help is a definite sign of weakness. At least, that’s what people say when they aren’t brave enough to ask for help.

So…drop your work into the tank…

fishtank
Photo by Parkland graduate Bill Gibbens; used with permission.

…OR,  if you don’t think these are good ideas, come on over to the Center for Academic Success (CAS) in D120! We’ve got pep talks, reality checks, course helps, and lots of students working their way to academic success, just like you! See you there, if you dare!

IMAG0398
Come over to CAS for steps to success! Photo by Sue Jones.

R Factors: Instructor Tips for Online Students

Finish your online class in strong fashion by reflecting on four “R factors” your online instructors want you to remember:

Research:  Do not consider the Internet as the only research tool for your online course assignments. Most libraries, like Parkland’s, have online resources available, including live chats with real librarians during library hours! Do not rely on sites like Wikipedia or About.com unless your instructor has indicated that those are viable options for your assignment. Always ask about a site of which you are unsure.

Report Formats:  You may be required to submit your written assignments in a specific document format. Likewise, your preferred document format (.wps, .odt or .pages) may not be viewable by your instructor. So, pay attention to detail about the types of documents they are willing to accept, and if possible, send a test document to them PRIOR to the assignment due date to ensure that they can open and read your file.

Review (Tests):  Some courses may require you to do some exams via proctor, meaning that you will need to be monitored during the exam. Parkland has testing centers on campus for students in online courses who need to take a proctored test. Note: Distant students must work with the instructor to make arrangements for taking proctored exams at a different location.

Replies: Your online instructor may not reply immediately to your question or comment. Most online instructors do their best to reply to email within 24-48 hours. For grading of discussions and assignments, they may take up to a week after the due date before finalizing grades. Continue working on assignments while you await their response, and rest assured that they will respond to your request.

 

 

Go ahead, get ahead.