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An interdisciplinary UD class and a registered student organization have
joined hands to present an award-winning display at the Philadelphia
1:50 p.m., March 4, 2014--Thanks to an interdisciplinary class and a
new registered student organization (RSO), the University of Delaware
again has an exhibit at this years Philadelphia Flower Show, which runs
through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. This years
educational exhibit takes on an ecological theme, specifically the key
role of American shad, a fish that once held a prominent place in the
Brandywine River but has seen a drastic population decline in recent
The project aims to raise public awareness of the issue by helping
educate those in attendance on the importance of shad and the ecosystem
services they provide to the Brandywine, which supplies the city of
Wilmingtons drinking water. The UD group received a Special
Achievement: Best Achievement in Social Change Messaging award for the
The class is called Design Process Practicum and is taught by Jules Bruck, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences; Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration; and Jon Cox, assistant professor in UDs Department of Art.
The newly formed RSO is called Design and Articulture (DART) and its
members many of whom are also in the class helped with the creation
of this years display.
The exhibit examines the Brandywine River and features flowers native
to the Brandywine Valley that would naturally grow along its banks in
the spring, as well as showing how shad once populated the river in
large numbers. Prior to settlement along the Brandywine weve read
accounts of the water boiling black with shad, said Bruck, who
explained that a lot of the dams along the Brandywine have prevented the
shad from swimming upstream.
Some of these dams are historical treasures that cant be removed
such as the dam at Hagley Museum and part of the exhibit displays an
alternative to dam removal known as a fish ladder. Bruck explained that a
fish ladder is one of several techniques that can be used when there is
a dam impeding fish trying to upstream.
A fish ladder has short steps that the fish can flop up and over and
get through them pretty easily, and depending on how high the water is,
its easier at some times than others, said Bruck, who explained that
the groups version of a fish ladder was a very contemporary version,
not a realistic one. Its an idea that we just want people to be aware
of, she said.
The reason the group chose to focus on shad is that the fish is
important culturally, historically and as indicator species to the
relative health of the Brandywine.
Culturally, the shad were once linked to the Brandywine much like
blue crab are linked to Baltimore. Middlebrooks explained that Gerald
Kauffman, project director for the Water Resources Agency,
was a guest speaker at a class session and explained the historical
significance of the shad. Kauffman related to the class a story about
how Washingtons troops were starving at Valley Forge and the shad
migrated north just in time to provide a food supply.
Shad are also a very important indicator species. Of course were
interested in the species and their success but as many experts have now
told us, shad are very indicative of water quality in the Brandywine
watershed, which, of course, supplies all of Wilmingtons drinking
water, said Middlebrooks.
DART is a relatively new RSO and Weber Stibolt, a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
(CANR) and club president, said that its members wanted to form a group
to get more recognition for the project. Its been kind of an
underground project these past couple of years; not a lot of people have
known about it.
Stibolt said that the club has 12 members right now and that his
favorite part of working on the project has been learning about aspects
of agriculture that he doesnt get exposed to in his major.
Sydney Bruck, freshman in CANR and member of DART, said the RSO
offers students who are in the class now and want to help out with the
exhibit next year but might not have room in their schedule to take
the class again a chance to participate. If you dont want to take the class again next year to be involved, you can still be part of the RSO and be involved, said Bruck.
Bruck also said she enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect of the
project. I think when you get a bunch of landscape designers together
for a flower show, its missing something. Its not complete. Or if you
have a bunch of designers or art majors for an art project, its still
very one sided. But I think we have a very well-rounded exhibit because
of all the people, and I think the students really enjoy learning from
each other, too.
Another reason the professors enjoy having the students work on the
flower show is that it looks great on their resumes when they apply for
future jobs or internships.
Jules Bruck said that a student who worked on the show in the past
came to her and said he applied for an internship and the Philadelphia
Flower Show project was on his resume. Theres no doubt in my mind that
I got my internship because of the Philadelphia Flower Show. When I got
my interview, thats all they wanted to talk about, Bruck said the
student told her.
Middlebrooks said that the project is really much more consequential
for students long term. It provides yet another opportunity for them to
get engaged with professors, get engaged outside the University. They
make a variety of connections and I know a number of students have
explicitly credited the flower show being on their resume with landing
internships, even a Disney internship.
Middlebrooks also noted that the interdisciplinary and creative
aspects of the class help the students in the long run because, in his
experience, when people apply for jobs, companies are looking for two
main things: creativity and collaboration. So were always looking for
ways to really maximize that. And thats really limited if you just do
that in your own discipline, or in a single class, so the flower show
has always and continues to serve as an opportunity to cross
disciplines, said Middlebrooks.
The project is particularly important for Cox who grew up along the
Brandywine and said that he remembers playing in the river as a child.
Some of my earliest memories are actually going down the Brandywine
in this little inflatable Sevylor two-person boat with my sister, said
Cox. So the Brandywine has always been special to me and we go canoeing
a couple times a year and we started taking my son there now and he is
two and a half now and so hell be able to grow up and have some of the
Of course, the flower show couldnt happen without the flowers, and
getting the native plants to bloom and look like they would in the
spring was no easy feat, especially during such a rough winter.
Bruck was in charge of growing the plants and the students helped out
as well. Bruck also thanked Rodney Dempsey, Bill Barts and Joyce
Zayakosky, members of the UD Greenhouse staff, for all that they did to
get the flowers blooming on time.
The group also thanked the Center for Teaching and Effectiveness and
Learning (CTAL), the Office of Undergraduate Research and the
Pennsylvania Horticulture Society for help funding the project, and
Kauffman and Sherri Evans-Stanton, director of the Brandywine
Conservancy, for speaking to the class about the shad.
Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Jon Cox
Originally published by UDaily
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