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3M Grant Will Enable Southwestern, Georgetown To Develop Projects Related To The San Gabriel River Trail

The $50,000 “Vision Grant” from the 3M Foundation will enable the university to fund about 30 projects over the next three years

Southwestern University has received a $50,000 “Vision Grant” from the 3M Foundation that will enable it to partner with the City of Georgetown and volunteer community groups to improve the new San Gabriel River Trail.

Ben Pierce, a professor of biology at Southwestern, said the grant will enable students from all majors to help design and carry out a variety of research and special projects over the next three years. All will be focused on enhancing the 8.2-mile hike and bike trail that connects downtown parks and trails with Lake Georgetown.

“The San Gabriel River Trail is a real asset to the community and this grant will enable us to do a great deal to enhance the trail,” Pierce said.

For example, Pierce said, biology students could inventory plants and animals along the trail and publish brochures detailing what they have found. Chemistry students could study the quality of the water in the river. Education students could develop ways to use the trail for environmental education programs. Sociology students could study who uses the trail. Kinesiology students could design exercise programs using the trail. And business students could study the economic impact of the trail.

Pierce said he expects the grant will enable the university to fund about 30 projects over the next three years. The first proposals for projects will be accepted this fall and the first projects should be funded for the spring semester. Pierce will coordinate the program, with the assistance of Laura Hobgood-Oster, chair of Southwestern’s Environmental Studies Program, and Michael Kamen, associate professor of education.

Students can develop proposals for senior capstone projects, independent study projects or service learning projects for the university’s Paideia® Program. Faculty can also propose their own research projects that would involve students. The grant stipulates that students and faculty members must also involve representatives from the community in each project. For example, Southwestern students could involve students and teachers from a local school in water collection and analysis, or members of a local birding club could be invited to conduct bird surveys.

The university already has formed partnerships with the City of Georgetown Parks and Recreation Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in anticipation of the project.

“Involving members of the community will give students valuable leadership skills and experience working with the public and will help them see the importance of community service,” Pierce said.

Pierce noted that the grant is coming at a perfect time because the city currently is trying to extend the San Gabriel River Trail out to the new SH 130.

“This project will provide the City of Georgetown and its residents with useful biological, sociological and historical information about the trail corridor that will potentially enhance future use and development of the trail,” Pierce said.

Southwestern was one of four private colleges to receive Vision Grants from 3M this year. The Vision Grant program was created to help liberal arts colleges make connections with their communities. In the past 19 years, the program has awarded 90 grants totaling nearly $4 million. Southwestern was able to receive the grant in part because Austin is the headquarters for five 3M business units and the company has an active philanthropic interest in the Austin area.

“The program Southwestern proposed really ties the campus to the community, and will allow students to apply their knowledge and learn in real-world situations,” said Russell Bridges, government and community affairs manager at the 3M Austin Center and a member the Vision Grant selection committee.