September 2015, Volume 19, Number 4



Inspiration in Limestone

Every great writer needs a muse, and for the students in Carlos González Morales’ English composition classes, that spark of inspiration resides in a small patch of pine rockland at MDC’s Kendall Campus.

“I used to struggle with writing because I was never passionate about the topics we were assigned in high school,” said Leo Alfonso. “Now the words flow as I speak up for creatures struggling to survive in a vanishing habitat.”

Discovering a Hidden Gem

Even though Alfonso is studying environmental science at MDC, his coursework hadn’t covered this type of terrain, so he didn’t know why pine rockland is so rare and worth restoring. He soon learned from his English professor that the answer lies in its resilient bed of limestone, a porous stone with no barriers to saltwater intrusion where beautiful but endangered species thrive, from the hairstreak butterfly and Florida lantana to the bonneted bat.

“Pine rockland can be found only in South Florida, the Florida Keys and some islands of the Bahamas,” he said. “They are designated as globally imperiled, so I want to do my part to save them.”

Pine rockland once covered 185,000 acres of Miami-Dade County; today only 2 percent remains, and MDC’s Environmental Center at Kendall Campus is home to two of those precious acres.

Hundreds of New Perspectives

The unique composition class Alfonso took is one of more than 250 courses offered through the Global Sustainability and Earth Literacy Studies (GSELS) Learning Network of MDC’s Earth Ethics Institute.

“While the restoration work is practical, involving removal of invasive plants that block natural undergrowth, the transformation is not just environmental, it’s also personal,” González Morales said. “The writing assignments open students up to new ways of looking at the world and themselves.”

Biology student Aaron Aguila, who volunteered in the rockland but did not take the GSELS class, was amazed by the change he saw in his peers.

“They were expressing themselves in ways I hadn’t experienced when I took a writing class,” he said. “It was like they stepped outside of the box when they stepped into Professor González Morales’ class.”

Describing the impact of the GSELS composition course, Alfonso said, “I’ve had a really tough childhood, but when I began the restoration work and started writing about it, all of the issues that plague me faded into the backdrop of my heart and mind. They are no longer the focus of my day nor the cause of my worries.

“In restoring the pine rockland and re-telling its story, I’ve restored my soul.”

To learn more about GSELS, go to

— BK

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