(November 16, 2015)

Centenary class learns lessons in local sustainability

Dr. Blakeney and students during a Chemistry and Society field trip.

SHREVEPORT, LA — Centenary students in Dr. Ernest Blakeney's Chemistry 105/115 course, Chemistry and Society, receive an important civic education as they work to understand the chemical roots of some of society's most pressing environmental issues.

"Many societal challenges, including global warming/climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, and acid rain, have their origins in chemistry and can only be understood in terms of chemical principles," says Blakeney, Albert Sklar Chair of Chemistry at Centenary. "The Chemistry and Society course introduces students to a number of these challenges and provides them with an understanding of the basic underlying chemistry, in hopes that they will be better informed consumers of information about these challenges, and also better informed voters."

In the laboratory course, Chemistry 115, students visit the City of Shreveport's Woolworth Road landfill, the Shreveport Water Purification Plant, and the Shreveport Waste Water Treatment Plant. At each site, employees serve as guides to explain the operation of the facility and the challenges they face in operating it in a safe manner.

"I want the students to see what is behind all the things the city does for us that we take for granted," says Blakeney. "I want the students to understand what happens to all the trash we put out after it is hauled away from our neighborhood. We turn on the faucet and expect clean, drinkable water to come out, and we flush the commode and expect that whatever we put into it will be 'taken care of.' I want students to understand that providing clean water and dealing with our waste requires extensive and expensive infrastructure, and the work of dedicated, trained people."

Blakeney also hopes to plan a trip to the Pratt Industries recycling plant so that students can see how waste is converted back into value-added products.

"I feel that I have gained a better understanding of the role that chemistry plays in our everyday life," says student Caitlyn Faulhaber. "I honestly did not know that there was such an intricate process to handling all of the waste until we went to the landfill for a class trip. It really opened my eyes, and was a great experience despite the smell."

The topics and methods of Chemistry 105/115 qualify it as a Centenary "challenge course" in the area of sustainability. Centenary students have the opportunity to explore diverse subject matter through a liberal arts curriculum that engages three primary global challenges of the 21st century, including living a sustainable life, living a meaningful life, and expanding circles of relationships. Sustainability challenge courses enable Centenary students to learn how to lead a sustainable life, work to devise solutions to problems that use our resources wisely, and create sustainable, just, and compassionate systems.

"I have a greater understanding of how chemistry affects us in society due to going outside the classroom to see chemistry in action," says student Jacob Mosher. "It is one thing to hear that there are problems, and another thing to understand why those problems are occurring."