The Dernogalizer

September 15, 2009

Engaged University Column

Filed under: University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 1:10 am
Tags: , ,

I have a column out today in the Diamondback explaining why the University of Maryland shouldn’t include its Engaged University program in its budget cuts.

Engaged University: Too important to lose

I’ve always been amazed at how the little things in our lives can add up to make a difference. As a runner, when I’m training for a long-distance race, eating a little bit healthier allows me to hit a time I would otherwise barely miss.

The pop quiz I didn’t take seriously ends up being the 1 percent I could’ve used to get a higher grade. The sport or instrument we play can shape us even if it’s just a hobby.

This past summer, I was meeting a friend of mine for lunch, and she asked if we could stop by Engaged University. Apparently Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was making a visit. I had heard of Engaged University, but really didn’t know what it was or what it did. I had talked to students who volunteered there before, but was never filled in on how important it was until now.

Engaged University, a part of the university’s statewide Cooperative Extension system that is located within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and based in Riverdale, is in danger of losing university funding.

There were three parts of the program that Hoyer visited along with other spectators. First was the Master Peace Community Farm, a garden divided into four segments that includes included an urban farm, family-run plots, and one for youth overseen by local middle and high school students. I found the youth plot the most interesting, as there were some kids working on it during the visit. They were asking Hoyer questions about the value of locally grown food as a fuel-saver because it doesn’t have to be shipped, and asking why their school lunches didn’t include healthy food like they were growing.

The second part was the Renaissance Community Youth Bike Shop, which repairs and refurbishes abandoned bikes from the campus and community. The shop teaches kids how to make these repairs and gives away free bicycles for kids who volunteer their time. It was promoting alternative transportation, exercise, teaching new skills, and teaching the value of reusing and recycling. It would be helpful if more kids had places like Engaged University to go to during the summer and after school. To his credit Hoyer hopped onto a pedal powered electricity generator and lit up light bulbs behind him.

The last stop was a biodiesel fueling station, powered by a small wind turbine and a solar panel. Engaged U makes the biodiesel from waste vegetable oil, and uses it to serve about 30 people in the community who are part of a biodiesel co-op. If this were adopted in more communities on a larger scale, I could see it playing a role in reducing our oil dependence. I watched the visitors drive away. Then it clicked.

The purpose of EU is to provide members of the surrounding community knowledge and resources for improving their quality of life. It’s to serve as a testing ground for solutions to challenges our country faces, put into practice by ordinary people.

There are some things you can’t teach inside a classroom. There are some things you have to see and do to understand their value. These are the intangibles in our society. The little things that add up to make or break us. Don’t throw this one away.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

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