Bears on the Hill: Environmental Policy Class Heads to the State Capitol
Ursinus College is defined by a community of thinkers and doers, guided by an open questions curriculum that ensures all members of the community are thinking about the impact they can have on the world beyond our campus borders. The students from Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Brie Berry’s Special Topics in Environmental Studies class personified that ethos by taking to the state capitol to understand how their studies and policy interests could begin to shape the environment not just in Collegeville, but across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“Students in my Environmental Policy course got to see the policy process in action during our trip to Harrisburg,” Berry said. “They not only participated in discussions about emergent environmental policy at the state level, but also learned about the career journeys of elected officials and their staff. This experience outside of the classroom gave them important context for understanding how environmental policy is made at the state scale.”
On a busy session day, our Bears headed to the Pennsylvania State Legislature at the invitation of our district’s elected leadership—Senator Tracy Pennycuick and Representative Joe Webster—to learn more about how their classwork connects to the ongoing environmental policy discussions happening at the state and local levels.
As the state capitol came to life for the start of the session day, the students of ENV-350 were officially introduced and acknowledged in both the Senate and House chambers, commending their efforts both in and outside of the classroom.
“I was proud to host Ursinus College’s Dr. Brie Berry and her students from the Environmental Studies program in the Harrisburg State Capitol building this week,” Webster said. “Civic engagement, especially in our younger generations, is invaluable for our democracy and ensures that every voice is heard. It provided a great opportunity for them to witness a legislative session in person and see the democratic process in action.”
Pennycuick added, “Additionally, being engaged in civics can help young people build skills such as reasoning, decision making, self-esteem, leadership and professional development. I am a firm believer in mentoring our leaders of tomorrow. I think it’s great that Ursinus College offers its students real-world opportunities to experience civics and government during their college experience.”
From the chamber floors to the capitol galleys, the Ursinus students kept pace with the hustle and bustle of the day and were surprised by a lunchtime visit by Ursinus alumni Reps. Steven Malagari ’06 and Tim Brennan ’00 for a reflection on the college’s impact on their careers and the how the lessons learned on campus continued to shape their views of the world today.
“As an ENV major, coming to the capitol today is not something I would have expected to do,” said Abby Duimering ’24. “But by being able to talk to the senators and representatives today … was really exciting and made me feel really empowered and excited to engage in the political process.”
The day on the hill concluded with Q&A session with the leadership team of the office of Senator Art Haywood, discussing the myriad of pathways into policy and advocacy work and how their own distinct pathways into public service. The biggest takeaway from the conversation came courtesy of Sen. Haywood’s communications director, Wallace Weaver: “Be open to new experiences and never say no to the opportunity to learn something outside of your comfort zone.”