Mason County News
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Sustainable Leadership in Mason
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 • Posted April 22, 2009

Once again, urban college students from all over Texas have been visiting our beautiful town of Mason, to learn about Sustainable Leadership: Managing natural, financial, professional and personal resources in such a way that we meet our needs without compromising the ability of those who come after us to meet theirs.

Texas Nature Project students connect theoretical education from their majors - business to psychology, literature to theology - to concrete decisions and choices about how they work and live through hands-on experiences, one-on-one instruction, readings and written reflections, in the largest outdoor environmental laboratory in Texas.

This spring, the Sustainable Leadership Program proudly received sponsorship from H-E-B Community Investment. Texas Nature Project was invited to apply for foundation support from H-E-B by Ms. Susan Ghertner, Manager of Environmental Affairs, after she spoke with Texas Nature Project students at the Fredericksburg Renewable Energy Roundup in the fall.

H-E-B and several visiting faculty made it possible for students to experience a broad range of sights, smells, touches, sounds and tastes, ask questions and make connections to expand the depth and breadth of their understanding of their home state and world, and their place in it. George and KK Brannies hosted students to learn about organic ranching practices, explore the visual differences in land and grasses, and then taste the difference in the kitchen with freshly grilled organic beef burgers. Later that same day, students learned about raising lambs and showing them when Spencer Bierschwale invited students to visit his family and ranch. Witness the transformative power of a baby goat winning over the heart of someone who had never seen such a creature, below.

After learning about food, the next program featured water. Amanda Ross of the LCRA traveled to Mason from Austin, to introduce students to the vast variety of life in a seemingly barren section of the Llano River. Students learned about the health and flow of surface water and how it differs in quality from ground water, through chemical and visual testing. One parent learned about the natural affinity for nature – or biophilia – of children as he watched four of his own explore the river and its banks in wonder and awe. Students teamed up to look for and explore evidence of various homes, hibernation, camouflage, the wind and seasons.

Biology students from Austin Community College and their teacher, Professor Nita Hazel are making two trips to Northpoint Ranch this spring, one in February and the next in May. Biology is literally the study of life (bios = life, logos = science or study). Texas Nature Project is providing the opportunity for these students to get out of the classroom where, ironically, they encounter no life at all, to experience the richness of life in the Hill Country. Students delineate “quadrats” where they practice empirical method to describe and catalogue everything they can find. The quadrats remain so they can explore the vast differences that three months and a few inches of rain can make in a 3 foot square.

Dr. Karen Roper traveled from Austin College in Dallas so that students could learn more about method in physical and social sciences, as compared to other ways human beings come to understand and know their world: the arts, history, religion, individual exploration. Students again practiced the discipline of observation, being asked to describe what they see sheep, goat, horse and donkey doing, while abstaining from drawing any conclusions about the purpose or intention of the behavior observed. This unintentionally led to a fascinating discussion about free will.

To complement the explorations in the sciences, the following week, students participated in activities that explored arts and artifacts under the expert guidance of Mr. Wilburn Shearer and Mrs. Sue Kaan. Students learned about how the long-ago inhabitants of this area of the Texas Hill Country used materials that were available to them to fashion weapons and art materials. And, in the afternoon, they used some of these methods themselves to express feelings, memories and thoughts evoked by their experiences in nature.

Our final Sustainable Leadership Program this spring winds up with students participating in a green building project under the guidance of Mr. Keith Kaan and Mr. Jim Wilson. Texas Nature Project is proud to announce that long-awaited facilities are currently under construction. Students will learn how what they see and learn about alternative sustainable building practices and materials can be realized in their own homes and lives.

Texas Nature Project will honor its generous and knowledgeable guest faculty this spring, and invite all residents of Mason to participate in the Open-House event to learn more about what is happening here. Details will be forthcoming.

Summer College Prep Programs

This summer, high school students will have an opportunity to work with Jan Schultz and Dr. Sherra Theisen of Texas Nature Project, as they prepare for the next challenging stage of their academic career. Workshops will cover skills needed to negotiate everything from getting along with a roommate and conflict resolution, to expectations of college writing. Jan Schultz has over twenty years of experience in student development as an administrator in Student Affairs. Dr. Theisen served as Director of Academic Advising, Freshman Orientation and First Year Experience for four years as well as philosophy faculty for over eighteen years.

To ensure participants receive individual attention, each session is limited to four students. There are three, six-week sessions available: For students entering their junior year of high school, six consecutive Thursday evenings, July 9th through August 13th, from 5:30 to 8:30. For students entering their senior year of high school, six weeks beginning June 19th and ending July 31st, excluding July 5th, from 5:30-8:30. For students entering college in the fall, June 20th through August 1st excluding July 4th, from 5:30-8:30.

The cost of the College Prep Program is $120.00 for six weeks. Anyone interested in sponsoring a student in the College Prep Program is encouraged to do so! To make your reservation or sponsor a student, contact Jan at 832-878-4141 or Sherra at 325-320-5251.

Young Philosophers Are Back

The Young Philosophers’ Summer Academy is being offered only twice this summer, again for three-day sessions, 9:00am to Noon. The young philosophers explore the difficult right vs. right decisions that all of us make each day: loyalty vs. friendship, individual vs. group, short-term vs. long-term, and justice vs. mercy. Students utilize the 100-acre outdoor classroom to engage senses, improve focus, energize spirit and develop understanding of community.

Dates for the Young Philosophers are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 13, 14 and 15 for ages 10 to 13; and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 20, 21 and 22 for even younger philosophers, aged 6 to 9. Enrollment is limited to six. Cost of the three-day session is $60.00. To make a reservation or sponsor a child, contact Jan at 832-878-4141 or Sherra at 325-320-5251 or email

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