Elizabeth Sowatzke is a graduate student in the Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development program in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in Zoology and Biological Aspects of Conservation and a certificate in Environmental Studies. Elizabeth spent her junior year studying in Kenya through the Minnesota Studies in International Development program and during that time, became interested in the disconnect between people and their environment. Upon completion of her degrees, Elizabeth was accepted to Teach For America and taught 8-12th grade sciences for two years in South Louisiana. While teaching, she became interested in exploring students' understandings of ecology and how their understandings shaped their world. She is currently working with Dr. David Williamson Shaffer on the Urban Science epistemic game in which players engage in the professional practices of urban planners and learn how to become ecological thinkers in the process.
Urban science: civic engagement to civic science.
Young people are rarely included in the planning and redesigning of streets and cities, and consequently, they often feel disconnected from their cities, viewing their surroundings as static contexts. However, cities are constantly evolving, due to the changing needs and wants of the local community. This perspective is an essential component of the epistemic frame of urban planners, who negotiate the demands of numerous stakeholder groups when envisioning the future of a particular city.
Here we present Urban Science, an epistemic game where young people role play as professional urban planners, as a way to develop new ways of looking at and acting in the world. During gameplay, players learn about the different visions each stakeholder has for the future of the community, and then proceed to integrate this complex set of demands into a cohesive plan for community growth. Players visualize these proposed changes through the use of iPlan – a custom designed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tool.
Through participating in authentic professional practice, players in Urban Science begin to develop the epistemic frame of urban planning. They begin to see their local contexts as dynamic spaces that they can help mold and shape – and thus begin to see a particular role for themselves in their community.