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Meet Nick, an Anthropology professor with a green thumb

Ball State’s graduate students aren’t the only ones who engage in high-impact learning experiences. Today, we are pleased to introduce you to Nick Kawa, an environmental anthropologist and a graduate faculty member in the Department of Anthropology. Originally from Batavia, IL, Nick earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Florida and has been teaching at Ball State for three years. Last summer, he helped to organize a collaborative project between community members and students to transform an empty lot into a thriving community garden.

Photo credit: Nick Kawa

Photo credit: Nick Kawa

On his role in creating the HUB Community Garden: 

“Over the past year, I have been involved with the HUB Community Garden in downtown Muncie. It’s a collaborative effort involving Ball State students, local business owner Hans Heintzelman, and a number of community members, including retired preacher Charlie Mason. The project began with the simple goal of converting an empty lot owned by Hans into a community garden. I helped put Hans in contact with students from the Landscape Architecture program last winter and together they began to design a site plan. Once the design was completed, we received donations of mulch, soil, and raised planter beds for the garden. This spring we broke ground, installing the planters as well as stone pathways on one end of the site. On the other end of the site, Hans had a granite bench installed that memorialized his nephew who passed away in a car accident. I was also able to acquire paint from the Muncie Sanitary District and together we spent an afternoon putting up a mural, which was a fun activity that brought the group together.”

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Photo credit: Hans Heintzelman

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Photo Credit: Hans Heintzelman

On the significance of the HUB: 

“One of the things that Hans emphasized was that he wanted the garden to be a “hub” or focal point for other projects that are dedicated to revitalizing downtown Muncie. For that reason, students laid a circular brick patio at the center of the site that symbolizes “the hub” and serves as a meeting space. The garden was inaugurated this June and since then we have hosted several events, including a barbecue with live music for the Downtown Art Walk. We also had a successful first summer of gardening, producing lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, greens, and herbs. We hope that this space can continue to grow and serve as model for similar initiatives in the city. Right now, Hans and I are in contact with the city of Muncie to see if we can expand the project to an empty lot a few blocks away where we hope to work with BSU students to design another community garden and pocket park.”

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Photo credit: Christine Johnson

On the ways this experience has shaped his teaching:

“It has been a real pleasure to be involved with this project and I am hoping to get more anthropology students involved in it in the future. Right now I have a group of students in my course ‘Ecological Dimensions of Culture’ that are identifying other empty lots that may be converted into gardens and green space. More than just beautifying downtown, we want to think about how we can create meaningful social spaces in the city. A lot of post-industrial cities like Muncie are looking to re-invent themselves and I think anthropologists can play a valuable role in that process.”

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Photo credit: Hans Heintzelman

On the Department of Anthropology:

“We want our graduate students to gain practical knowledge and skills that will help them develop meaningful careers. In the Applied Anthropology Laboratories, our Master’s students have been actively involved in a number of contracts and grants, especially in the field of archaeology. Currently, we are also working to develop more research projects in Muncie to attract cultural anthropologists with interests in community development, environmental conservation, and urban renewal.  Since our graduate program is relatively small, our Master’s students get a lot of attention from faculty. They also develop a real sense of camaraderie among themselves, which I think makes the program special.”

His advice to incoming students:

“Get to know your peers and faculty. Take advantage of the resources and opportunities that are available here on campus. Get involved in research at the local level. And develop a broad network of contacts. All of these things will help you make the most of your experience at Ball State.”

Photo credit: Nick Kawa

Photo credit: Nick Kawa

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Nick!
If you’d like to learn more about Ball State University’s Master of Arts program in Anthropology, visit the department’s website or contact the graduate program director, Jennifer Erickson.
To read Nick’s work or watch his academic presentations, visit his website