Preview performance of the Huntington Theatre Company's James Joyce's The Dead, September 7, 8, and 9, at the BU Theatre

Vol. V No. 3   ·   31 August 2001 


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Lifelong learning is goal of new Division of Extended Education

By Brian Fitzgerald

The phrase lifelong learning has become familiar in the past decade, and no one has to tell John Ebersole its importance to the country's workforce.

  John Ebersole, associate provost and dean of Extended Education. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Ebersole, an associate provost and the dean of the newly established BU Division of Extended Education (EXED), says that there is a growing need for workers who can readily adapt to change and master new technologies. "There has been a lot of research and writing about the need for lifelong learning," he says. "Some of these authors suggest that all of us, in order to remain competent and competitive, are going to have to earn the equivalent of 30 semester units of academic work every seven years. BU is positioning itself to truly meet the needs of individuals throughout their lifetimes."

He says that BU's newest division will have a strong commitment to lifelong learning. "In a competitive global society," he says, "one must continually acquire and update the skills and knowledge necessary for professional competence and career success."

A large component of the new division is Metropolitan College, where Ebersole was dean from September 2000 to July 2001. Jay Halfond, formerly associate dean of MET, succeeded Ebersole as dean. (See sidebar "New MET Dean Jay Halfond sees a clearer identity for the college")

EXED includes the School of Hospitality Administration (which was recently made a separate school), Summer Term, the Corporate Education Center in Tyngsboro, Mass., and Sargent Center for Outdoor Education (formerly Sargent Camp) in New Hampshire. It will oversee BU's Office of Distance Education, the newly created Center for Professional Education, and BU Global, an international training and education program. A Lifelong Learning unit, offering noncredit cultural and lifestyle programs -- and encompassing the Evergreen Program, for people age 60 or older -- will be a future addition.

"BU is also creating a Training Track unit with an international network of affiliations," says Ebersole. Training Track, run out of the Corporate Education Center, is an entrepreneurial enterprise involved in the sales and distribution of BU curricula -- primarily information technology-related training. "We're signing agreements with both for-profit training companies and other universities to deliver IT training that has been developed by Boston University. There is no other university in the country that is doing anything like this."

In addition, the new Center for Professional Education, which offers courses for real estate professionals, paralegal professionals, and financial planners, "is forming a partnership with the BU School of Medicine to jointly serve the needs of the biotech community," says Ebersole. "The center has also entered into a relationship with the Ad Club of Boston to provide continuous access to professional education for people in advertising and corporate communications."

Ebersole is excited about the Office of Distance Education, which administers both broadcast satellite television and online programs. "The office has started to broadcast programs out of Metropolitan College and the College of Engineering to the PBS Business and Technology Channel," he says. "In online education, we are currently developing courses in partnership with the School of Education, the College of Communication, and the School of Medicine."

He notes that virtually every one of EXED's programs helps provide more access to the University's resources. "Boston University is a center for excellence with a wonderful reputation, particularly in the liberal arts," he says. "Its educational model is quite traditional. In fact, BU is proud of the fact that it doesn't chase academic fads the way some other colleges do. But at the same time, it's embracing a number of initiatives, each of which is innovative in one way or another. And the sheer breadth of these initiatives is quite remarkable. We're using technology to enhance BU's programs. We're creating short, intensive diploma programs aimed at international students. We're expanding programs in professional education that provide the kind of training people need in order to maintain their professional competence."

According to Ebersole, lifelong learning is not just an educator's cliché -- his life has been a continuous pursuit of knowledge on an often nontraditional academic path. Ebersole was eight years out of high school and well into a military career before his college education began. He did undergraduate work at the Naval War College and earned master's degrees in business administration and public administration from San Francisco's John F. Kennedy University during his 21-year stint in the Coast Guard. And he is still going to school -- through a distance education program -- to earn a doctoral degree at George Washington University.

Dennis Berkey, provost and dean of arts and sciences, says that Ebersole "has extensive and successful experience in the development, marketing, and delivery of high quality courses and programs to non-tranditional students."

As for Metropolitan College, which was founded in 1965 for working professionals, Ebersole says that it will be better able to focus on degree and academic programming and not get bogged down in various entrepreneurial and outreach activities that are expected to serve all parts of the University.

"One of the charges given to me was to sort through all the programs in MET and see if we could find some organizing principle," he says. "So many programs have been housed at the college that it was very difficult to see any focus. What we hope we have done with this reorganization is divest MET of those activities that are no longer appropriate in an academic unit. In many ways, the establishment of the Division of Extended Education is a tribute to Jay Halfond and the previous deans, along with those who had the foresight to create Metropolitan College in the first place, because essentially the bulk of what this division is going to be involved in are initiatives that came out of the college."

OLDAmerica's native wildflowers are growing scarcer in every state, except for a few new species that are flourishing at the expense of the rest, says Richard Primack, who has been studying disappearing plant species in forests across the world.

In fact, Primack, a CAS biology professor, has been leading plant restoration efforts from Belize to Borneo. But he is especially interested in preserving plant diversity in the Boston area. During a recent hike in Jamaica Plain's Allandale Woods -- a reservation where he planted native species more than a decade ago -- Primack bemoans the fact that local wildflower populations have been depleted in Massachusetts cities and suburbs over the years.

"The numbers lost are alarming," he says. He notes that a survey in 1894 listed 422 plant species in the Middlesex Fells Reservation in Medford, Mass. A count by Primack from 1990 to 1993, however, listed only 272 species. So for years Primack, fellow BU researchers, and volunteers reestablished seeds and seedlings of missing plants -- such as columbine and cardinal flower -- in the Fells and Allandale Woods, as well as in nature reservations in Newton, another city whose woodlands have been reduced by urban sprawl.

How fruitful have their efforts been? Primack, a Newton resident, says that it's too early to call the experiment a success or a failure: under field conditions, many seeds have to undergo a long period of dormancy before they germinate. He reports "decent results" with bluets and marsh marigold seedlings that were planted in Newton's Hammond Woods in 1994. In 1998, with the help of the Newton Pride Committee volunteer beautification team, he planted native flowers, including blue flag irises, in the city's Cold Spring Park. In addition, Primack and BU students planted native shrubs on the banks of the Charles River near the Newton Marriott in 1999.

It will probably take a few years to verify whether or not the plants reproduce in numbers adequate to establish a permanent population, but Primack is heartened by the publicity the plantings have generated. "Children from Newton's elementary schools have been involved in the project, and the Newton Pride Committee is also selling wildflower bulbs and seedlings to help fund more plantings," he says. Indeed, the effort was featured in the June edition of the national children's newspaper My Weekly Reader. "It helps provide an awareness of the importance of biodiversity in a community that is having much of its remaining undeveloped real estate built on."

Primack explains that researchers typically monitor the plant survival rate in such experiments for several years, but not in the long run. "Generally, scientists operate under three-year funding cycles, but then the project ends," he says. "But in a lot of areas of science, there is increasing thought given to following plant populations over a longer period of time." That is the purpose of his visit to Allandale Woods, where Primack planted wildflowers, including partridgeberry, Indian cucumber root, and foam flower, in 1989. The transplants were checked in 1990 and 1991, and with the exception of the Indian cucumber root, all had survived and flowered. Primack hadn't been back to this conservation area in 10 years, however, and he wanted to see which of his plants had survived. "As a middle-aged man, lately I've been interested in visiting sites of experiments I conducted as a young man," he laughs.

Allandale Woods, across from the Arnold Arboretum on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, is a 31-acre forest owned by the city of Boston that abuts woodland belonging to nearby Faulkner Hospital. "This area was once an estate and a farm, and the plant life here is typical of the secondary growth that invades old fields," says Primack. A cursory check reveals none of his original plantings, but the woods have changed a great deal in 10 years. We find a six-sided springhouse, built in the 1870s, sitting on a meandering stream. The structure, with a conical roof, was a famous source of water in the neighborhood in the late 19th century. It was falling into ruin in 1989, but it has since been renovated. And while Allandale Woods is protected by conservation restrictions, the neighboring woods that were the site of the historic Souther Estate are now dominated by a giant Faulkner Hospital elder care facility, built in 1992. In addition, woodland owned by the nearby Church of the Annunciation is being cleared to construct a school. Encroaching development is a sign of the times: many of Boston's privately owned open spaces, like Newton's, are being built on, and native plant species are dying out.

The development trend bothers Primack, but he is hoping that his wildflower restoration projects will increase public awareness of the need to resist development pressures when building projects threaten sensitive wilderness areas.

"In 1989, we were doing experiments in Allandale Woods to see how effectively we could reintroduce wildflower species using different techniques," he says as he avoids stepping on poison ivy -- a plant that is definitely not endangered here. "Building on our work in these woods, Brian Drayton [GRS'03], one of my graduate students, started doing the much more detailed studies of wildflower reintroductions in the Middlesex Fells and in U.S. Forest Service land in South Carolina."

Using an outcrop of Roxbury pudding stone capped with a glacial erratic -- known locally as Table Rock -- as a landmark, we walk down a steep hill into a wooded dell where Primack is positive he planted some wildflowers. Sure enough, we come upon one of the plantings, a solitary three-inch-tall jack-in-the pulpit. "It looks like a seedling, but it's a 12-year-old plant," he says. "It should be two feet tall." Will it survive for another season? Primack says that's difficult to tell. "I remember that in the Hammond Woods we planted Canadian lousewort plants, and every year their numbers were down," he says. "Last year there were none. Because it was dry, they might have gone underground. Orchids can remain dormant for years."

Such is the work of a conservation biologist reintroducing wildflowers near urban areas. Every planting is a gamble. But the battle is worth it, because every year the natural environment is becoming less diverse and more homogeneous. Primack likens the trend to locally owned businesses being replaced by chain stores.

The jack-in-the-pulpit that Primack planted is rare in cities, and while hardly thriving in Allandale Woods, it is still there after 12 years. "It's hanging on," he muses, "but for how long?"


31 August 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations