Learning Lake Initiative Profiled in Pitt Chronicle

A recent feature story in the Pitt Chronicle profiled the Learning Lake Initiative (LLI), an interdisciplinary collaboration co-directed by faculty member and University Honors College Assistant Dean Gordon Mitchell.

The Pitt Chronicle Article focuses on a recent LLI program that brought Shakespeare to the shores of Pennsylvania’s largest lake. Last August, two-dozen Pitt students traveled to Lake Pymatuning to watch an LLI-produced performance of The Merchant of Venice. English Professor David Brumble adeptly provided, en route, a 65-mph primer on one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays, and then hosted a reflective discussion session back in the University Honors College offices two weeks later.

The event, performed by The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and co-produced by the UHC and Pymatuning State Park, drew a total audience of about 150 people and received front-page coverage in the Greenville Record-Argus newspaper. By a stroke of luck there was no rain despite a dodgy forecast, creating ideal conditions to celebrate launch of the UHC’s new Learning Lake Initiative.

Lake Pymatuning is a unique resource for residents of Pennsylvania and Ohio, a place for recreation and reflection. It has also long been a site of learning for students and others affiliated with the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology facilities on the north eastern shore. The Learning Lake Initiative (LLI) extends this tradition by supporting creative learning and community engagement opportunities for University of Pittsburgh students in diverse fields of study such as English, communication, history, engineering, public health, studio arts and theatre arts. Some example projects from the LLI’s first full year of operation include:

  • An experiential learning plug-in to Professor David Sanchez’ Computer Assisted Design engineering course, in which students constructed a physical model of the Learning Lake and developed proposed bridge structures to link a key portion of the proposed Spillway to Townline Trail that crosses a creek.
  • A public debate, conducted at Greenville High School on the question, “Should the Feeding of Bread Products to Fish be Prohibited at the Linesville Spillway?" and featuring Pymatuning State Park manager Daniel Bickel, Clarion epidemiologist Andrew Turner, Greenville High School students and Pitt Brackenridge Research Fellow Benjamin Wertkin. The debate drew a major story in the local newspaper and Benjamin’s research fellowship project resulted in a publication of his letter to the editor in the Greenville Record-Argus.
  • A Brackenridge Research Fellowship project, conducted by history and theatre arts major Alexandra Krongel, that explored the adaptation of alchemical themes in Shakespeare’s plays.

Seed funding for the LLI came from a 2014 award from the University of Pittsburgh’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence. The LLI’s senior leadership team includes Mitchell, Daniel Bickel, Pymatuning State Park Manager; and Kathleen McTigue, Associate Professor of Medicine of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh.

















An interactive map showing locations of some of key Learning Lake sites on Lake Pymatuning can be accessed from the beta version of the LLI’s website, designed by UHC advisor Jason Sepac.

Long-term plans for the LLI focus on the design, construction, and maintenance of a multi-use trail and installation of a performance amphitheater for outdoor public events on the periphery of Lake Pymatuning. Additional interdisciplinary projects under consideration include:

  • Public health research to measure physical activity in the region (relevant for pre-trail construction baseline data).
  • Design of a memorial to commemorate the region's participation in a torpedo testing program on Lake Pymatuning that was pivotal in World War II.
  • Collaboration with a Conneaut Lake Middle School on a unit focusing on the contested etymology of the name "Pymatuning."

Students interested in collaborating on these future LLI projects, or sharing ideas for other projects, should contact Gordon Mitchell or Kathleen McTigue.