Visioning a Community Garden at Tempe Academy of International Studies

ProMod Sustainability Program From August 2015 to May 2016, students enrolled in the project-based, modular learning (ProMod) sustainability program worked with the Tempe Academy of International Studies to create a vision and plan for a community garden on the school grounds. We spoke with Tamsin Foucrier, a current PhD student in the School of Sustainability (SOS) and a ProMod project coordinator as well as three undergraduate students involved in this first phase of the project:
  • Paul Millea, a sustainability student in the ecosystems track with a minor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
  • Omar Sanchez Marquez, a sustainability student pursuing a policy and governance track.
  • Matt Seelig, a sustainability student pursuing the ecosystems track and a minor in mathematics.
Two other students involved in the visioning workshop pictured here are sustainability majors Tye Waggoner and Gabrielle Pinho. There are also multiple stakeholders in this project:
  • Maricopa County Department of Health: Provided oversight and acted as the resource bridge between the school and the students.
  • Arizona Department of Education: The Farm to School Specialist was the content expert. She provided useful background information for the farm to school program as well as insight into what other schools around the country were doing.
  • Tempe Academy of International Studies (TAIS): The school was the students’ collaborator and client. Suzanne Holguin of TAIS was the main contact for the students. She provided logistical support in helping set up the visioning workshop and continually provided feedback for the students' work throughout the semester. The parents, teachers, and students were active participants in the ProMod vision workshop, helping to co-create a future vision for their future school and community garden.
  • ASU School of Sustainability: Tamsin Foucrier and Christopher Robinson were the program coordinators. Their role was composed of three major tasks: manage the relationship among the project partners, teach professional skills and visioning content, and guide the students in their work. Professors and teaching assistants provided the content background for the students as well as support and feedback for individual course deliverables (these individual course deliverables were scaffolded throughout the semester to culminate in the visioning workshop and final vision narrative). The ProMod students were tasked with designing and running a vision workshop for TAIS.
The Project The TAIS community garden project is projected to run several years, and the overarching goal is to help vision, design, and build a community garden space on a .75 acre lot situated on the school property. For the duration of the 2015/16 academic school year, the goal was to help the school think about what this community garden might look like and how it might function in the future through a visioning workshop. The goal of the current school year 2016/17, and what a current ProMod cohort is now working on, is to help the school move toward this vision by assisting with securing funding for the next phase of the project. Part of this original visioning workshop included an exercise in identifying the school’s and the community’s shared values to help define the project path forward. ProMod The Challenges A project with this many moving parts definitely presents some challenges. “One of the major challenges we faced as ProMod project coordinators was equipping our freshman students with the appropriate skills and competencies to successfully function as a team in order to create high-quality processes and deliverables for the project,” Tamsin Foucrier said. “Additionally, expecting first-year students to do visioning research is unheard of in the school. Typically, this type of challenging work is only done in the final years of an undergraduate’s timeline. Thus, we needed to also equip students with the content knowledge needed to do this type of work well.” Foucrier and her ProMod colleague, Christopher Robinson, turned to past courses and existing resources from faculty to help manage these challenges. Previously, sustainability faculty had run two different courses unrelated to the ProMod program. From these courses Foucrier and Robinson were able to utilize a variety of written resources, class activities, and tactics to help support the students. “Another major challenge was the limits of capacity these students had to do this type of work,” she said. “Simply put, we did not have enough manpower. To overcome this challenge, we tapped into other courses that were not ProMod-only courses and brought non-ProMod students into the fold. Student teams were formed between ProMod and non-ProMod students, with ProMod students functioning as team leaders. The visioning workshop design was given as a project for these students in their Professional Skills class and ProMod students depended on their teams to help them design the content needed for the workshop.” The students noted that challenges primarily presented themselves in terms of communication, planning, and time constraints because of the many stakeholders involved. “Teams changed size, and communication between supervisors and teams tended to be variable in expectation versus idea,” said Paul Millea. “When it came to creating a workshop format that was engaging for stakeholders, it was also difficult to make it informative in the way that we wanted it to be.” Students responded to this challenge by creating a map of their shared availability and adjusted their schedules to meet with TAIS around their shared availability in order to push the workshop forward. The Outcome To prepare, ASU students held a mock workshop on campus, and then in April 2016, the ProMod students held the visioning workshop at the school with parents, students, and teachers. ProMod students led participants through a variety of visioning activities, from a visual preference survey to a blueprint design activity. Participants were asked to think about what they wanted their community garden to look like and how they wanted it to function in the year 2030. From this workshop, ProMod students collected a large amount of quantitative and qualitative data, analyzed it, and developed a vision narrative from the participant input. This vision narrative provided the foundation for designing the garden itself in order to ensure it creates a garden that promotes healthy food awareness, learning, and community gathering, all functions that were identified as desirable by workshop participants. In its current stage, the initial design and narrative are being used to secure funds for the physical garden. “The project is ongoing in development, but in sourcing stakeholder ideas, we were extremely successful,” said Millea. After the workshop, students analyzed the data, drafted reports, and created presentations for TAIS to show them what their values and visions had created. “Our project resulted in the creation of a visioning workshop, hybrid data taken from surveys and recordings from the workshop which give insight into the values and desires for the garden, and a narrative and presentation describing the results of the workshop and the community’s vision,” said Matt Seelig. “The work done by incredible SOS faculty in the past was pivotal to the project’s success,” said Foucrier. “We drew upon handbooks and classroom content written by such faculty. Past efforts in solutions-oriented learning in our school provided us with a strong foundation.” Omar Sanchez Marquez said the School of Sustainability “gave us access to a professional skills class that had students who assisted and supported us in order to create the best possible workshop we could have.” All the students reflected on the invaluable mentorship and access to resources that SOS provided. Stakeholder Influence “The goal of this project was to co-create and collaborate with the teachers/staff, parents, and students of Tempe Academy of International Studies. Their input was pivotal to the final deliverable – a vision narrative for the school,” said Foucrier. “The visioning workshop also had to be designed in a way that engaged teachers, parents, and young children alike. ProMod students were incredibly aware and cognizant of this goal - it structured how they approached the workshop design and activities.” “Stakeholders gave me important information that helped me get a better idea of the garden but also a better understanding of the people who live in the Tempe community,” said Sanchez Marquez. “They were our boss and colleague in a way,” said Matt Seelig, “We were here to provide the tools that they do not have in order to build an encapsulating project...However, we needed to create their vision, not our own.” The Experience Because of the scope and size of the project, both the ProMod coordinators and the undergraduate ProMod students found valuable experience and insight from working on the project, with each other, and with the various stakeholders.”The project, for me, provided an opportunity to be a sustainability broker among our project partners, our SOS faculty and staff, and our ProMod students,” said Foucrier. “This required a multi-level project management process (managing student learning, project process, and future project planning). In addition, this type of work done at a first-year level challenged me to design learning experiences and spaces that balanced the need to build the capacity and confidence of our students as sustainability professionals and the need to move them forward in their ability to understand the complexity of sustainability challenges tempered by the reality of on-the-ground work.” ProMod students developed skills in facilitation, collaborative teamwork, and coordination of a large, diverse set of stakeholders. “An interesting experience I had while working on this, was interacting with the stakeholders on the school and community garden project,” said Sanchez Marquez. “Having the access to talk to them on a personal level, in order to hear their concerns, as well as get to know them was fantastic. Knowing the people who will benefit from this was amazing and definitely a great help for motivation. The workshop was simply an amazing and valuable experience.” The Lessons As the first cohort working on the TAIS community garden, Tamsin Foucrier reflects on her experience coordinating the ProMod students and facilitating the larger group, “One major lesson was that students involved in this type of solutions-oriented work need to be comfortable with and have a certain level of mastery over a slew of professional skills- effective communication, responsive project management, ability to engage with stakeholders impactfully, etc.- before they can work on a content level,” she said. “It was also clear that students needed to be more than exposed to tools for developing these types of skills. They needed to iteratively and consciously spend good time using and practicing these tools and skills before they even began diving into the content knowledge. We cannot expect students to be able to work as successful teams without providing them a space to practice what this entails.” The students expressed a greater understanding of larger, facilitated projects and the beauty of watching all the moving parts come together. “One lesson I learned from working on this project is that a process within something as big as this takes a long time, but patience is crucial for success as well as trusting the process and the decisions that come with it,” said Sanchez Marquez. “All our hard work at the end is worthwhile especially after seeing results.” “I learned just how powerful a coordinated and passionate team can be,” said Millea. “I learned that I am not the only one here to change the world,” said Seelig, “but instead a node that interacts melodically with all the individuals in my network. However, like a magnet, sometimes we all become aligned, and it gives a momentous change to how the systems around us work, and a change in the world begins to take place.” ProMod The Future For future freshman cohorts, Foucrier and Robinson have decided to scale back on the amount of content knowledge the students are exposed to in their first semester. Instead, their time will be used to build up student capacity and skillsets for collaborative teamwork as well as their confidence to be able to do this type of transformational work. “We have also learned that these team processes need to be revisited over and over again in our student teams until they become muscle memory for our students,” said Foucrier. “This way, students have the capacity to manage the ups and downs of the project process independently and can take true ownership over their work. Watching these students grow from unsure freshman to undergraduate students who continue to challenge themselves and get more involved in their project partners’ work and community has been incredible!” Going forward, all involved have advice for these kinds of projects. “Do not be afraid to get involved in this type of work from day one of your college experience,” said Foucrier. “College is the best way to begin developing your capacity as a future sustainability professional because it provides a protected environment to practice the skills and competencies needed to truly succeed in the field in the future. These types of projects are also unique opportunities to build something of your own- an ownership that can lead to powerful differences in your community. Differences that can be used to show future employers that you have the experience necessary to do the job well.” The students focused on the need to enjoy the process and challenges presented by the project. Sanchez Marquez said that “students should be passionate and have their heart in the project” to achieve success. “I would also tell the student to be organized, respectful to teammates, and be very open-minded and understanding of the ideas you’ll hear from teammates and stakeholders,” he said. He also emphasized that it is most important to have fun with the project. “Be ready to be confused, but do not worry about it,” said Seelig, emphasizing the need for forethought, “Things work themselves out if you put in effort and a apply conscious thought.” The second phase of the community garden is already in process, as the second ProMod cohort moves through the funding stage. Future cohorts can and will be working on this project for years once funding is secured and the designs are made manifest as a physical garden. “Students with an interest in food systems and agriculture should seriously consider being involved at some point with this project,” said Foucrier. “The school will need help in garden design as well as when they break ground in garden construction. In addition, there may be need for support in thinking about and designing innovative and transformative ways the garden can be used. Students can get involved in the project as an applied project option for their School of Sustainability requirements.” For more information on the ProMod program, please visit the ASU ProMod page, or the SOS page for the sustainability-specific programs.