When she’s not in the classroom during the summer months, you might find Alicia Sprow helping the students on Bog Turtle Creek Farm at the EcoHouse, down the road from Alvernia’s main campus.
“My favorite part of what I do at Alvernia is having the opportunity, the privilege, to work with these amazing teams of students on experiential learning projects,” said Sprow, a Leadership Department faculty member who coordinates the EcoHouse and the Master of Arts in Leadership programs.
The EcoHouse is home to Alvernia’s sustainability office, outdoor leadership adventures and Bog Turtle Creek Farm, a program designed to make fresh produce available to residents in the City of Reading, including those who use WIC and SNAP to buy food. Alvernia students manage the farm and sell the produce every week at the Penn Street Market and other sites in Reading.
A New York native, Sprow received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the State University of New York in Albany, and a Master in Education degree in counseling and human services from Lehigh University. At Alvernia, she received a Master in Education degree in urban education and a Doctorate in Leadership.
“I can talk about leadership development through a lecture, a video clip or a podcast, but when they get to experience what it is like to lead our farmers market program or take the lead in planning and co-facilitating an outdoor camping weekend as part of a one-credit leadership course, students have something tangible from which to learn,” said Sprow, who has officially worked at the school since 2012.
Sprow is also a faculty advisor for Alvernia’s student outdoor adventure organization, OAK. She leads real world learning trips internationally, and her Global Immersion Program is an ongoing community-based project on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada.
“I usually take eight to 10 students each June to the Castalia Marsh Eco Retreat where we focus on projects related to the community on the island,” she said. “It’s framed around community engagement, sustainability and leadership development. Students work in collaboration with the museum and other island organizations. As the students learn about the main island industry when they go clamming with the locals, they soak in the essence of the island.”
Her search seminar course helps to transition high schoolers to college, setting them up for success academically, emotionally and socially.
Sprow’s students also worked on two grant-related projects. Coexist Build, an architecture firm in Blandon, designed and helped install a hemp-based regenerative build material structure that will serve as a produce market for Bog Turtle Creek Farm. Alvernia students, in partnership with Coexist, will conduct a lifecycle assessment of industrial hemp by collecting data to help quantify the effectiveness of hemp as a building material in a structure’s performance. The other grant was with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, whose funding enabled the EcoHouse to purchase 10 kayaks and gear to hold introduction to kayaking programs.
Sprow’s belief is that “it is as important to educate with the heart as it is with the mind.” And she says fun is part of the learning process at the EcoHouse and in all that she does.
“It’s what keeps people engaged and wanting to experience more,” she said. “Engaging students in the active learning process is where I think the magic of learning happens – those ‘a-ha’ moments occur because students are experiencing it firsthand.”