GRCC Class Turns Grand Rapids into Gymnasium

Grand Rapids is becoming well-known for its environmental choices. Photo courtesy of the Office of Energy and Sustainability

A new class at Grand Rapids Community College is using the city as its fitness course, helping students shape up their bodies while learning about sustainability and wellness. Urban Eco Trek, which was first announced last March, brings students out of the campus’ Ford Fieldhouse and into Grand Rapids for city exploration.

Jocelyn Bunce, a Wellness instructor at GRCC and architect of the course, said the inspiration for Urban Eco Trek came from a desire to share insight on how exercising can provide interaction with the environment, which stems from other outdoor Wellness classes she has taught. She believes the treks will help students develop a greater appreciation of issues regarding nature and conservation.

“I was always finding myself wanting to share more of my passion for the environment with [my students],” said Bunce, “The best way to do that was with a class where that could be the entire focus.”

Two sections of Eco Trek meet once a week – a half-semester class taught by Professor Lynnae Collard convenes on Monday mornings, while a full-semester offering headed by Professor Laura Kennett meets on Friday afternoons. Students take a “field trip” of sorts through downtown Grand Rapids, passing through many city parks and landmarks during their workouts. Initial treks cover about a mile’s distance, but by the end of the term they are expected to cover three miles.

Between the two sections of the single-credit course, Eco Trek supports a first-time enrollment of 30 adventurous Raiders. As “a great workout can happen outside in any weather with little or no equipment,” the class will be offered every semester through all seasons.

In addition to physical education goals, the class aims to teach students about living with the land as much as they live on it. Through the semester, Eco Trek will delve into such topics as energy consumption, eco-friendly transportation, carbon and water footprints, and careers in sustainability, amongst others. The class will also feature an ArtPrize scavenger hunt.

There are three things Kennett hopes students walk away from the class with: first, she hopes they will acquire the “skills and strategies for taking simple steps to positively impact their well-being as well as our natural resources;” second, “the ability to enjoy and appreciate exercise outdoors;” third, “a safe and efficient exercise plan for incorporating regular physical activity into their lifestyle.”

“My main goal for students taking this class,” said Bunce, “is that they develop the lifelong skill of being able to enjoy exercise anywhere, anytime out in nature. As well as develop a greater appreciation for nature and enjoying the environment in any weather.”

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