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Students live and learn at Pine Jog environmental center
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By NORIKO OKADA
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Going green could mean fewer burdens on the wallet, as well as on the earth, at least at the Pine Jog Environmental Educational Center.

The center, a unit within Florida Atlantic University's College of Education, serves as a nature center that educates the community about protecting the environment.

Students in graduate resident program at Pine Jog must commit to four semesters of taking classes, working at the center for 20 hours a week and living in on-site residences. The center pays for their housing expenses in exchange for their work. The program requires students to be working toward master's degrees in environmental education.

"Living here gave me the extra time on the weekend to really get to know the forest," said Tracey Ritchie, public programs and volunteer coordinator at the center. Ritchie was a student in the program from 2006 to 2008.

Pine Jog is in a quiet suburban area, but shopping and other services are just a few miles away. Ritchie said she did not experience any inconvenience living on the site.

"Also, I lived where I worked. It was a very easy commute to work every day," she said.

The center's resident area can accommodate up to 10 students. Situated off Summit Boulevard and Jog Road, west of West Palm Beach, the 135-acre property contains walking trails, gift shop, administrative office and an elementary school, as well as three houses for the graduate students.

A current resident, Matthew Magoc, 24, describes the program as "out of this world."

"I have seen numerous bird species, lizards, every insect that you could think of, gopher tortoise, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, four species of snakes and a few box turtles. I am sure that I have seen more than that," said Magoc, who had spent his life until recently in St. Louis.

He said not having to worry about making rent payment each month was the main reason that led him to this program in South Florida. And now, being one of the only two residents, Magoc lives in a two-bedroom house with no roommates.

During the first semester in the program, Magoc collaborated with School District of Palm Beach County to host Green Schools Summit, at which the local residents and educators shared green ideas. He also managed the website for the summit, conducted exotic plant removal and helped write an Environmental Protection Agency grant application.

This semester, Magoc still has a hectic schedule. During an interview on a recent Tuesday, he said he worked on 50th anniversary Green Gala documents for the center, participated in the meeting to discuss possible grants opportunities, taught at after-school program and returned to the center to perform administrative chores.

On the previous day, he spent all morning writing a grant application, worked on 50th anniversary Green Gala documents and performed office duties such as answering phones and accommodating the center's visitors. His class schedule takes up three hours each on Wednesday and Thursday, and all day on Saturday.

"The days never really are the same day in and day out," Magoc said. "The variety keeps it interesting."

The other resident, Michelle Garcia, 24, says not having an Internet connection in the house is the only difficulty she sees with the program.

"Things are not so bad, though. Students use the Internet at the office, which is within a walking distance," said the South Florida native, who also has no roommates and lives in a three-bedroom house.

Garcia said she joined the program because of its variety of electives, support in interdisciplinary learning and on-site housing. Her days consist of many different duties like Magoc's. Among them: teaching on field trips, visits to schools, educational sessions at Pine Jog Elementary School and its after-school program and conducting wildlife surveys.

The deadline to apply for the program each year is March 31. The center requires nonrefundable $50 application fee. If a student is admitted, the center requires a nonrefundable $200 deposit two months before the program starts in August. A one-time, $2,000 program fee is due on Aug. 1.

According to Ritchie, many students get good jobs in the environmental field after finishing the program. Although not guaranteed, some are hired at Pine Jog. Since the program started in 2000, three students became Pine Jog staff members.

For more information, contact Karen Aubry at kaubry@fau.edu or 561-686-6600, ext. 420.

 
 

 
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Students live and learn at Pine Jog environmental center