Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

‘Thinking Like a River’ initiative launched

Environmental studies program funded by $383,000 MAC Foundation grant

Rivers / John Lane kayaking 382x255
John Lane, director of the Goodall Environmental Studies Center, kayaks in the Lawson's Fork.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – An innovative three-year initiative, “Thinking Like a River,” that aims to shape a culture of sustainability centered on local waters by offering unique, hands-on experiences with area rivers for students, faculty and area residents, has been announced by Wofford College.

Wofford’s environmental studies program, directed by Dr. Kaye Savage, has received a $383,000 grant from the Margaret A. Cargill (MAC) Foundation to fund the initiative that will bring the college community together with local citizens to “comprehend, celebrate and create an enduring culture of sustainability on rivers.” The project will integrate perspectives from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities and arts in experiential learning environments to connect, protect and reflect on rivers. The grant proposal was drafted by B.G. Stephens, professor of chemistry emeritus, and Dr. Terry A. Ferguson, associate professor of environmental studies and sociology and senior researcher for Wofford’s Goodall Environmental Studies Center

The grant was announced Tuesday, April 24, at the Santee Cooper Lecture Series on Sustainability and Energy Issues in which award-winning environmental writer and photographer Tim Palmer spoke. 

“Rivers in the South have always worked hard for a living, and we in environmental studies hope that the MAC Foundation funding of the ‘Thinking Like a River’ initiative will help raise the watershed consciousness of our community,” says John Lane, associate professor of environmental studies and English and director of the Goodall Center.  

"Thinking Like a River” encompasses three central components – a floating seminar series, a curriculum designed to encourage and engage visitors at the Goodall Center, and a Fellows program.

The floating seminar series will engage Wofford students and faculty, Spartanburg area teachers and the initiative’s Fellows in river exploration and investigation. The river experiences will incorporate readings, discussion, interviews with watershed residents and stakeholders, journaling, and site analysis. The series will include one- and two-day float trips during regular semester courses and three- to five-day float trips during the summer. Interim term experiences during January, which will be funded separately from the grant, will use longer trips.

The Goodall Center is located on the Lawson’s Fork Creek in Glendale, S.C., which has a fascinating geologic, prehistoric and historic past. Combined with the modern river environment and dawning revitalization of the area, the potential for outreach is tremendous, Lane says. “We will install instrumentation and draw attention to natural and social history in order to facilitate development of educational activities for adults and K-16 students.” The plan also includes hiring an outreach coordinator.

To create a culture of watershed appreciation and protection, community leaders must know about what threatens the health of rivers, and why people love them, Savage notes. “The Fellows program will invite citizens, including business leaders, governmental representatives, and nonprofit representatives as well as Wofford alumni, to spend a year participating in the floating seminars and other events. The Fellows will develop projects to improve awareness of rivers and water quality.”

“Although the ‘Thinking Like a River’ initiative is a three-year effort, the work that we do will have lasting impact through the development of leadership and education at all levels,” Savage continues. “Materials relating to the new curriculum, as well as concrete resources, such as a stream gauge, weather station, herbarium, ‘dam cam,’ gear, and data, will remain in use for years to come.”

Dr. David S. Wood, senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, says, “The MAC Foundation has recognized the important and innovative work our faculty has launched in our environmental studies program, and they have done so in a dramatic manner. Their support will enhance the experiences we provide for our students while having a high impact on our local community, our region, and, most importantly, our rivers. We are grateful and indebted to them for their generosity and to our program faculty, Kaye Savage, John Lane and Terry Ferguson for their energy and creativity. What you see here is genuinely distinctive and will have a disproportionately positive impact for all.”

The MAC Foundation has supported Wofford’s environmental education and outreach since 2009. Funding from the foundation has been used to implement a week-long environmental science workshop for middle school teachers and an environmental writing workshop for students, teachers and community members.

The MAC Foundation is the legacy of Margaret A. Cargill and was created at her direction after her death in 2006. Ms. Cargill was the granddaughter of one of the founders of Cargill Inc., an iconic brand in agribusiness. The foundation’s vision is “dedication to providing meaningful assistance and support to society, the arts, the environment, and all living things.” The core purpose is providing assistance and support to enhance the quality of life for children, families and seniors; prevent and relieve suffering; preserve and promote the environment and the arts; and encourage and support the humane treatment of animals. More information can be found at