International College Professors Honored as Florida's Top Educators

Research conducted by two International College Professors has led to their being honored with the 2005 Sustainable Florida Educator Award. Katherine Dew, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of business, and Kris W. Thoemke, Ph.D., a former International College environmental management professor, are credited for authoring two case studies pertaining to sustainability practices used at The Brooks in Bonita Springs and The Old Collier Golf Club in Naples.

The Council for a Sustainable Florida, established in 1990 by the Florida Legislature, recognized both professors for developing studies which teach students about business and environmental science.

Both professors were honored during a recent awards ceremony and reception with Governor Jeb Bush and lawmakers at the State Capitol.

The International College instructors were among nine state winners of the council’s Best Practices Awards.

Professor Dew says The Brooks and The Old Collier Golf Club were chosen due to their pioneering efforts that demonstrate how businesses can profit while adopting practices that benefit the environment.

The case studies, funded by grants through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Council for Sustainable Florida, presented the challenges facing the two companies prior to developing The Brooks and The Old Collier.

In introducing issues of sustainability and traditional business practices into the college classroom, Professor Dew says the objective was to make students “think outside of their own box.”

Thoemke and Dew authored the case studies after recognizing that business leaders were ill equipped to make important decisions affecting the relationship between the environment and the economy. The case studies demonstrate real-world models and new techniques that combine environmental protection with the needs of economic growth.

“No one is taught to collaborate,” says Dew. “Most people in business haven’t studied environmental science and people in environmental sciences haven’t studied business. These cases show that businesses and environmental agencies can sit down and talk through the big issues.”

“These studies bring environmental decisions into the business process,” added Thoemke, now a senior ecologist at Dyer, Riddle, Mills & Precourt. “Most business case studies are based on the economics. This presents a whole new way of thinking.”

The Old Collier Golf Club case study follows the decisions made by Collier Enterprises and Course Manager Tim Hiers in building a premium membership golf course while exceeding requirements in addressing environmental concerns – 267 acres of upland and wetland habitats. By collaborating with Audubon International, Hiers was able to guide development of a course that responded to indigenous wildlife and native vegetation while also pioneering the use of a salt-tolerant turf grass that had never been used on a working course in a subtropical climate.

The selection of the seashore paspalum grass, necessitated by the absence of a source for reclaimed water, allowed the course to be irrigated with readily available brackish water from the nearby Cocohatchee River.

The decision helped The Old Collier Golf Course achieve the world’s first designation as an Audubon International Gold Signature Sanctuary and prompted others in the golf industry to consider using the alternative turf grass. The course opened in September 2001 with a design that featured just 77 acres of turf (nearly half the amount of traditional courses) and exceeded the required 45.6 acres of native habitat with 70 acres.

The Brooks case study investigates the challenges facing The Bonita Bay Group in developing their 2,532-acre master-planned community. Students examined the issues confronting President and CEO Dennis Gilkey in restoring a historic flow way through the property to ease off-site flooding caused by the development of surrounding roadways. The study highlights the partnership formed by The Bonita Bay Group and the South Florida Water Management District to facilitate the restoration.

Dew said the case studies have been presented to both environmental management and business students at International College. Armed with the pertinent facts facing the two businesses, students are asked to devise possible solutions before they learn how each scenario actually played out.

Most students, says Dew, are surprised when the real-world solutions are presented to them. “Students are so pleased to see companies that are doing the right thing,” she says. “They get to see companies that walk the talk of their values, that make a decision that benefits the community and the environment, yet are still profitable.”

The majority of students at International College are working adults who will take what they’ve learned in the classroom and incorporate it into their business practices, said Dew. “It creates a ripple effect. They start to do more research and see how they can bring even a little piece of what The Bonita Bay Group or The Old Collier Golf Club did to their workplace.”

Dew and Thoemke have presented the studies to more than 300 International College students. The studies are also being used by Sharon Cooper, executive director for the Council for Sustainable Florida, outside of Florida.
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