Wellesley College launched the Paulson Initiative on Sept. 11, 2017, in combination with the college’s Year of Sustainability. Officially known as the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, its mission is to “Inspire and prepare every Wellesley woman to value sense of place and connection to nature to enrich their academic experience, personal well-being and communities at Wellesley and in the world,” as posted on their Facebook page.
The Paulson Initiative was made possible through a gift Wendy Judge Paulson ’69 gave to Wellesley, with the intention of creating a five-year initiative enabling the Wellesley community to connect with the surrounding landscape. Paulson serves as chairman emerita of Rare, a conservation organization.
Suzanne Langridge was hired last year to direct the Paulson Initiative. She collaborates with students, faculty and staff, and she also guides student interns. Over the summer, Langridge chose four interns who monitored birds, insects and plants. They worked with the Wellesley College Archives to document everything they found.
“The main goal of the internship is to provide opportunities for their fellow students to connect to the Wellesley landscape,” said Langridge. “My goal for the interns is to provide them knowledge, training and skills that they are most interested in gaining over the year and support them to develop successful campaigns and events.”
During the academic year, Langridge has two student interns, Linda Liu ’19 and Nicole Zhao ’20, who meet with her weekly as they come up with different projects. Liu, who is majoring in English, and Zhao, who is majoring in cinema and media studies, use their backgrounds to their advantage when coming up with ideas.
“I think they appreciated we could look at the project from a different angle and we could diversify the events that we host,” explained Liu.
Liu hosts a “Literary Walk Series” on Friday mornings from 10 to 11, in which she and a group of students read poetry as they walk around Wellesley’s campus. For each walk, Liu picks a different theme. She has done poems about fall, apples, poems in translation and poems by Robert Frost. All students are invited to her walks.
Though she doesn’t have a set route, the group always meets at Paramecium Pond. The longest walk she did began at the pond, went through the arboretum by the observatory, and then finished at Lake Waban. Liu also enjoys visiting the Edible Ecosystem Teaching Garden, which has stone benches perfect for stopping to read the poems.
For Liu, reading nature poems while also being surrounded by nature provides her with an intimate connection to what the writers must have been visualizing. For instance, one week she picked Chinese nature poems that happened to be about water, rivers and lakes. The group sat by Paramecium Pond as they read.
“We looked at the pond — it’s a small pond, but it’s still water — and there are reflections, and there are trees,” she said. “It was such a surreal experience because you feel like you’re being taken into the Tang dynasty poems, which is like 2000 years ago, and it was such an immediate way to connect to the poets.”
Though Liu has received plenty of positive feedback about her literary walks, the turnout has not been as large as she had hoped. She and Langridge have been brainstorming ways to attract more people, perhaps by changing the time or inviting popular faculty members to come and read their favorite poems.
Besides hosting events, the Paulson Initiative interns also work on long-term projects related to the landscape. For instance, Zhao is currently working on creating a new map of Wellesley College. Many varieties of maps already exist, mostly focused on buildings or roads. These maps are usually framed in the same way, with Lake Waban positioned in the bottom left and the two main roads defining the outer boundaries of the campus.
“I think that changing the way that we orient the campus in the map that we use to look at it is also a way of changing our perspective and our interactions with it. So maybe highlighting special green spaces, or highlighting the history of an area,” said Zhao.
Zhao has also entertained the idea of creating several maps for different regions of the campus, as well as creating an electronic version with links that people can click on.
The Paulson Initiative interns often collaborate with the Thorndike interns, who take care of the Botanic Gardens. This past October, they created an event called “Music in the Landscape,” in which they invited musicians to perform outside while enjoying a bonfire, hot cider and donuts.
“We love collaborating with the Thorndike interns!” said Langridge. “They are also dedicated to engaging the Wellesley community with the landscape, and plants in particular, so there is so much overlap that it makes sense to collaborate.”
The Paulson Initiative interns have also collaborated with Wellesley Fresh, picking crab apples and mint for the chefs to use. For the rest of the academic year, the interns will continue brainstorming with Langridge about more ways to connect students with the environment.
“I love working with interns and helping bring to life the creative ways they think of to engage students in the landscape,” said Langridge.
Both Zhao and Liu are passionate about their projects, and eager to come up with new ideas.
“This landscape is so beautiful but so underutilized, and at least for me and a lot of my friends, we walk through the landscape and we walk past things, but it’s always in the background,” Zhao said. “And I think a lot of the reason for why the landscape is in the background has to do with the fact that it’s not well-integrated into our daily lives.”