For conservation biology students who love herpetology, studying turtles in a lecture hall can be fun. However, studying and observing turtles while wading alongside them in their natural habitat is far more natural, and for most, a better way to learn.

Experiential education is one of the cornerstones of Unity College, using Maine as its classroom to get the students out in the field as often as possible. It’s a philosophy that Dr. Matthew Chatfield, Associate Professor of Conservation Biology, has embraced during his years at Unity College.

Now, Dr. Chatfield has been recognized for his efforts. Dr. Chatfield is one of three professors in the state to earn the 2018 Donald Harward Faculty Award for Service-Learning from the Maine Campus Compact, a nonprofit coalition of 18 colleges and universities.

“We’re really proud of Dr. Chatfield and the work that he’s done with our students,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, President of Unity College. “It’s inspiring to see his students so engaged in the Wood Turtle Research Project and getting out and helping amphibians cross the road during the Big Night this spring. His teaching and research embodies a Unity College education.”

Recipients of the Donald Harward Faculty Award for Service-Learning are recognized for using service-learning or community engagement as an innovative teaching tool to engage students in civic learning. Recipients also show clear evidence of reflection, community benefit, and reciprocity with community partners and demonstrate a commitment to advocating for service-learning and/or community action on campus and beyond.

“It is an honor to be recognized by Maine Campus Compact for work related to engaged, community-based learning,” said Dr. Chatfield. “So often in the sciences, we receive praise for getting a grant or a new publication, while the other part of our job, teaching, goes overlooked and underappreciated. Yet it’s through our students that we best affect positive change in the world. My work at Unity has confirmed that belief time and again.”

Dr. Chatfield also partners with the American Chestnut Foundation, who relies on citizen scientists like Unity College students to conduct research; the Mass Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod, where students can study sea turtles during peak stranding season; and The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, where students mark and gather data on snakes and turtles.  

The award was presented at the Maine Campus Compact’s 17th Annual Awards Celebration on Wednesday, April 25, 2-4 p.m. at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives at Bates College.