The School of Integrative Studies (SIS) prides itself for its hands-on learning opportunities. For Greg Justice, who coordinates SIS field studies, experiential learning has always been at the heart of his professional work and personal interest.
Justice traces his commitment to experiential learning to his own undergraduate classes studying conservation at Lord Fairfax Community College and later at George Mason University. In both institutions, Justice found the classes that offered hands-on learning to be the most compelling, bringing subjects to life.
Justice remembered his first college courses in natural history. He said, “Experiential education helps the information come to life and stay with you. My natural history program was very hands-on. You can sit in a classroom and gain your knowledge by looking at a specimen in a jar, but it’s never as real as seeing that animal or bird or plant in the wild. The more you can get students out and seeing things for themselves, the longer the knowledge stays with them.”
Whether leading students to sift for fossils at Calvert Cliffs or teaching students in his open water scuba class at Mason’s Aquatic and Fitness Center, Justice brings his knowledge and natural curiosity to every field study experience he coordinates, making the program all the richer for his involvement.
Prior to joining SIS, Justice worked as an interpreter for the National Park Service and Virginia State Parks, spending extensive time in the Appalachian Mountains. He was also a biological consultant for Wildlife International, a company that researched how agricultural products impact local wildlife populations. Justice travelled from rice fields in Louisiana to pineapple plantations in Hawaii and potato farms in Idaho. This work informed his understanding of how environments can change due to industrial or human activity.
Justice said, “Learning is always situational. That’s why I want to get students out in the field. It’s not until you are in that place, that ecosystem, that you can relate to a student what life was like right there 20 or 30 years ago. Then, it’s very clear to explain why one species used to grow here and now they don’t.”
In all the field experiences he coordinates, Justice has one primary goal. He said, “I want to get the students to slow down, really take a look at what is around them. When that happens, they begin to see the wildflowers and pollinators. They hear the birds sing and have the opportunity to become excited about what they are seeing… Whenever I see students have that magical learning moment, when they see the pieces of the puzzle come together and they make the connections, to me that’s the reward.”
June 15, 2016