The sustaining partnership of the Au Sable Institute, an environmental science education program, and PLNU provides students with the opportunity to explore nature in context to what Christians are called to do in the face of environmental changes. The Au Sable Institute couples in-field learning at their three campuses in Washington, Michigan, and Costa Rica with a curriculum that allows students to complete two upper-division courses within one summer.

The Au Sable Institute has been accepting PLNU students into the program for over 25 years, and in 2019, PLNU became a sustaining partner. This led to increased opportunities for scholarships and financial aid specifically for PLNU students. Students were able to take advantage of this support for the first time this past summer.

Mike Mooring, Ph.D., professor of biology and the Au Sable representative on PLNU’s campus, said, “[This partnership] is important, first of all, because it fulfills some important curriculum requirements for students’ majors, and Au Sable’s programs happen at a time when students have the bandwidth to be able to do something like this. Secondly, it is an outstanding experience in the Christian community and in a beautiful setting where students can grow in their relationship with God through his creation, through interactions with that community, through the study of worship and classes they are involved in.”

This year, nine PLNU students were accepted into the program. Caleb Kastein, a senior environmental science major, spent his summer at the Great Lakes (Michigan) campus.

“My time at Au Sable was an incredible experience,” said Kastein. “Au Sable gave me a refreshed outlook for not only what I want to do but what I can do with a degree in environmental science.”

The question of how students can use their degrees in context to environmental sustainability is something that is explored through this program. Taking an interdisciplinary look at human impact on nature, students are encouraged to question and refine how they can be leaders in creation care, which Mooring defines as, “environmental stewardship motivated by the desire to be obedient to God’s mandate to tend and care for the planet.” This begins by offering a wide range of highly specialized courses that incorporate in-field experiences — from going out to sea for orca watching to swimming in alpine lakes. The impact of these programs is seen in the students who have returned to PLNU this semester.

“Au Sable gave me a new appreciation for both nature and God,” said Kastein. “The knowledge, experience, and relationships formed me in ways that will impact me for the rest of my life. I grew as a student, Christian, and person.”

The knowledge, experience, and relationships formed me in ways that will impact me for the rest of my life. I grew as a student, Christian, and person.

Lainie Alfaro is a student at PLNU studying journalism and international studies. She’s currently opinion editor at The Point, PLNU’s student-run newspaper.