Classes at Duke Gardens support learning and transform teaching


From dance classes to dermatology students, from herpetology majors to engineering students, the Duke in the Gardens Program served as a gateway to new learning experiences.

Launched in 2018, the program connects with people not only at Duke, but also in the wider community who want to use the garden to meet their learning needs, according to Kaitlin Henderson, Duke graduate and coordinator of academic partnerships and community engagement at Duke’s Gardens.

The program was in its infancy when the pandemic hit and the gardens closed. As students began to return, Henderson heard from instructors who wanted to take advantage of outdoor instruction. Still, it was limited.

“We were able to get permission to have an appointment system for these college groups to hold their classes outside,” Henderson said. This allowed him to get feedback on the use of the gardens and to make improvements to the programming.

Today, teachers bring in students to study plants, or design, or simply use it as an outdoor space to calm the mind and nurture the creative spirit.

Between July 2021 and June 2022, the Duke in the Gardens program worked with college groups for 88 scheduled visits, 50 classes, 30 wellness programs and social gatherings. In July, the program had scheduled 28 more visits with more than 1,500 students, faculty and staff.

One of Duke’s Five Pillars strategic framework is to transform teaching and learning. The program does this not only by helping students, but also by receiving help from them.

Michael Rizk, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Practice, has had students work on several projects involving the creation of different models that can be used by gardens in their educational programs. Among them, a Venus flytrap model for teaching water/soil interactions.

This semester, his students are working on an animal sound model to demonstrate/teach the sound-producing mechanisms of animals such as crickets, frogs, cicadas and bees.

“Kati and the Gardens have been great ‘clients’ for our projects, and we love working with them,” Rizk said.

Nicolette Caglea lecturer in environmental science and policy at the Nicholas School, says the gardens allow her to provide a hands-on learning experience for students.

“The Native Plant Garden allows me to teach my students about the native trees of the Southeastern United States in my Dendrology course and provides students with a fantastic study resource. The array of ponds and habitats also gives us the opportunity for high quality birding during my wildlife study course,” Cagle said.

Dermatology students came to learn more about plants that cause contact dermatitis and possible reactions. Students planning to travel to Mexico came to learn about plants important to Latin American culture.

“They were learning vocabulary related to plant parts and using their knowledge and experience to compare different cultural gardening practices,” Henderson said.

Duke in the Gardens and the Student Wellness Center have partnered to expand Moments of Mindfulness programs beyond the wellness building, says QuiAnne ‘Holmes, associate director of wellness programs, DuWell.

“We were grateful to be able to collaborate with them, as well as other campus partners, to provide students with opportunities to connect with nature, practice meditation and mindfulness, increase feelings of well to be and build community,” Holmes said. “Ultimately, this program has helped our students connect to another valuable resource on campus where they can manage their stress and anxiety and improve their emotional well-being routine.”

Over the past few weeks, Henderson has been conducting outreach programs in different departments to learn how gardens can be helpful and offer programs to support them.

She also works with the Office of Learning Innovation which supports new approaches to student-centered teaching and active learning.

“Part of the goal is to start raising more awareness,” she said, adding, “It’s something we’re passionate about and we want to connect with more instructors to have stirring conversations. brainstorm with them.”


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