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Reconnecting and Reengaging WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP Author: Professor Robert Dvorak Each fall, my colleague Jordan Bruursema and I teach a workshop to introductory university students called “Disconnect to Reconnect”. It is an opportunity for these students in the first few weeks of their university experience to visit a community nature park (Deerfield Nature Park) and consider how disconnecting from technology and societal pressures can give them the ability to reconnect with themselves. Over several hours, these students can explore nature, listen to the sounds of a river and forest, and share time with their peers. It is certainly not a novel idea, but it highlights how we need to be reminded of nature’s ability to provide peace, solitude, and connection. Following the discussions with students during this year’s workshop, it encouraged me to contemplate what else might need reconnecting? Students reminded me of how disjointed and chaotic the learning experience has been for these young adults. Many of them spent several years of their education experience in some form of electronic online learning. Pedagogy has shifted as self-directed learning on personal laptops becomes more commonplace. Presentations and projects are engaged, completed, and submitted online through cloud-based applications. And students can focus their learning on strictly completing tasks and achieving outcomes, instead of immersing themselves in experiences and opportunities. It demonstrates a scenario where students might be trying to hurry up and finish the race, instead of enjoying the journey.
Such ambitions are not uncommon, but worth further consideration in our post-pandemic world searching for a “new normal”. How might such perspectives have an impact on the engagement and participation of younger generations in conservation and stewardship? What concepts and values might need further exposure and enforcement in the development of new professionals? Wilderness conservation has been a profession driven by service, volunteerism, and activism. These values must be demonstrated and nurtured if they are to be passed on to the next cohort. And for this to happen, it might require reengaging on a greater scale. We all adapted to changes, some societal and many personal over the past several years. These changes impacts our engagement and opportunities to both positive and negative ways. Now comes the opportunity to reconnect and reengage in our passions for wilderness and wild nature. We close 2022 with the opportunity to strengthen our networks, build collaborations, and foster a constituency energized for positive change. As we lead by example, we can strengthen our commitments to wilderness stewardship and reconnect people to our vital natural world. ROBERT DVORAK is editor-in-chief of IJW and professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration at Central Michigan University: email: firstname.lastname@example.org