Angelique Scarpa, an administrative assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering, adores birds of prey. An avid bird watcher and nature enthusiast, she is awed by soaring hawks, hooting owls, and majestic eagles.
Over the past year, Scarpa has been working to share her passion for the natural world with members of her department. She received funding from the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund to launch her “Reasons to Go Outside” project.
Consisting of a website and event series, her project arose out of a grant writing class she took at the Harvard Extension School. “We were required to draft a fake proposal as part of the course,” Scarpa recalls. “The idea to bring a nature-themed, community-building project to the chemical engineering department was already on my mind, so I decided to make it happen for real. I looked into what grant programs were available for MIT staff and stumbled upon the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, which was a great find.”
The first part of her project consisted of a website mapping out the green spaces in and around MIT as well as those located a short distance away, accessible by public transportation (reasonstogooutside.wordpress.com). Scarpa added maps and video directions for several sites, including the Kendall Roof Garden, the Charles River paths, and Fresh Pond Reservoir. The site also features bird watching tips, book recommendations, and other nature-themed resources.
Brian Smith, the environmental health and safety coordinator in the Department of Chemical Engineering, provided feedback to Scarpa as her site was coming together. “I think Angelique’s site will inspire people to go outside,” Smith says. “It’s visually engaging and particularly useful for students who are not familiar with the area and are looking for ways to be in nature and get out of the MIT bubble.”
In fall 2018, Scarpa hosted a nature presentation for members of the chemical engineering department, featuring a teacher naturalist from Drumlin Farm and a host of animals, including a great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, and striped skunk. This fall, she organized two nature journaling workshops with illustrator and naturalist Clare Walker Leslie.
Chun Man Chow, a PhD student in chemical engineering, attended the workshops and reflected on them, saying “Nature journaling offers me the chance to take a break from my typical work day. I can pause and observe the world around me with all of my senses. Even amidst our industrial-looking MIT buildings, there is quite a bit of wildlife. Since the events, I started nature journaling on my own, and it’s been really rewarding.”
“Looking around and seeing people enjoying themselves at these events was so fulfilling,” says Scarpa. “I think being drawn to nature is part of our human biological makeup. Being outside and being in tune with the rhythms of nature can help bring people back in touch with their minds, bodies, and hearts.”
Considering what advice she would give to others considering implementing community-building projects in their departments, Scarpa says: “Absolutely go for it! Working with MindHandHeart and my colleagues in my department to launch this initiative has been a wonderful experience.”
This semester, she is hoping to gather interested students, faculty, and staff for brief nature journaling sessions on MIT’s campus. “Time spent in nature has vastly improved my mood, outlook, and life overall,” says Scarpa. “I look forward to sharing the wealth of what I’ve learned from time spent outside.”
MIT staff, faculty, students, and students’ spouses can apply to the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund to realize their ideas to make MIT a more welcoming, inclusive, and healthy place. The next funding cycle opens March 1-31.