Picture: Student Sara Main (left) and Professor Greg Lorenz (right) at 2019 Walk2Connect Summit
I am proud to serve as the director of the urban studies program for Wartburg College West – an urban semester program located in Denver, CO. I live and work here in Denver. Undergraduate college students from our main campus in Iowa and from our midwestern partner schools attend our program for summer or a semester to gain professional experience in their fields, clarify their personal and professional goals, and explore the dimensions and challenges of living in an urban environment – which is often quite different than they are used to (many grow up in rural Iowa). My connection with Walk2Connect has allowed me to provide transformational learning experiences for students so they can deepen their understanding of topics like sustainability, mobility, transportation, community, diversity and culture. These are topics that are challenging to “teach” but easier to “experience” with intention and reflection.
When you are gifting to Walk2Connect, you are gifting for educators seeking inspiration to “bring learning to life” for our next generation of students.
How has W2C been a gift to you?
When started this job, I had the opportunity to teach a number of classes that had to be experiential, with a focus on diversity, equity etc. A colleague recommended Jonathon Stalls. I reached out and he invited me on a 7am walk that was starting from a coffee house in Denver. We had different age groups, a leader from the coffee shop, a person in a wheelchair, everything Walk2Connect stands for – and then it went from there. I joined other Walk2Connect walks with my students, had a walking leader be a guest speaker in my class, and had an experiential walk for our faculty on their visit to Denver.
I am honored to be part of a community that allows you to be you – no egos, no judgement. From the first walk I attended, everyone is authentic - there is no judgement about who you are, what you do. Anytime you join a new group, there is a little bit of hesitation on both ends: people don’t know what your motivation or intention is, and you don't know if you’re going to be accepted. That was not the case with Walk2Connect - everyone everyone is eager to get to connect with you.
Walk2Connect has opened my eyes to so many personal and professional issues like pedestrian dignity, diversity, the power of place and space, and health and wellness. As an educator, it has re-framed my understanding of experiential learning – something I have a great deal of experience with as a professional but I am constantly refining, revising and developing. I have found Walk2Connect to be an excellent inspiration and resource for how I create learning experiences for students in our Wartburg West urban studies program.
Picture: Professor Greg Lorenz and Wartburg West class on top of Mt Sherman, CO
How have you moved this gift into your life?
My Walk2Connect experience has impacted me professionally. For example, I am using the city as a textbook and as our classroom. However, this fall, due to COVID-19, I was asked to teach my classes online, asynchronously – meaning no face to face connections with students! And most of my students were back in Iowa.
So, I had to re-frame my approach to teaching and learning. Now that students are learning remotely and spread out around the country, how do I create learning experiences for them that resemble our experiences in Denver? Walk2Connect inspired me. I created a variety of “walkabout” assignments for students to explore the places they live (by foot). Their feedback was so positive – they were surprised at how much they learned about a place by walking. For example – they learned about where and how people gather and the role of nature in the places we live.
Picture: Professor Greg Lorenz and Wartburg West class experiencing mobility in Five Points, Denver
Personally, I feel like I am just getting started with walking, yet I feel like I understand the power of movement and walking more and more every time I get out. Walking has become contemplative for me – if I am wrestling with a challenging situation or a big question, I walk. If I am preparing for a presentation or organizing thoughts for a meeting, I walk. If I am feeling uninspired, I walk to find new energy. As the owner of a 1 year old chocolate lab puppy, Louie, we walk every morning and afternoon/evening. This has enhanced our active lifestyle…and Louie appreciates it! Since working with W2C, I notice the environment more than I ever have – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the structures, the nature…and this awareness is with me whether I am hiking a trail in the mountains or walking in the city.
Picture: Professor Greg Lorenz on a hike
How has this inspired you to be a gift to others?
As an experiential educator, walking as allowed me to create experiential learning opportunities for the students I work with. Especially in this time of remote learning, Zoom classes, and sitting in front of a computer, the challenge becomes how to leverage experiences to promote learning. Walking does this! It changes the “classroom environment!” It allows students to use their senses and creates a place where learning becomes multi-dimensional.
Annually, I bring a new group of faculty and staff colleagues from our campus in Iowa to Denver to learn about our program so they can recruit students. Jonathon Stalls led a walk focused on pedestrian dignity and transportation for our group that was unlike any other “presentation” or training event.
I attended the Walk2Connect summit in 2019 – one of our students connected with a W2C member at the summit and invited her to her senior capstone presentation (by zoom) in the spring of 2020. This made my day (or year)! It’s hard for college students to network and meet valuable people – that was a good experience to witness.
Walking can be very casual and informal, but at the Summit I was connected with the professional side of the field (mobility, sustainable transportation, walking audits). That fit nicely with my professional goals on mobility and transportation, and helped me better understand all the consulting work that the co-op owners do.
Picture: Professor Greg Lorenz and Wartburg West class on an experiential walk at 38th & Blake RTD Station
I have redesigned projects and assignments for students to include walkabouts and digital storytelling using walking/moving as a mode of exploration. As a result, students say their eyes have been opened to the places they live, and they see these places in new ways. All in all, I want to inspire students to understand the benefits of moving and walking (rather than driving) as a way to actively learn about the places we live and work. This is a practice and perspective they can take with them wherever their journey takes them next.
Greg Lorenz, Ph.D. | Academic & Urban Studies Program Director-Wartburg West
Faculty | Center for Integrative and Interdisciplinary Studies
Wartburg College West | Wartburg College
Wartburg College is dedicated to challenging and nurturing students for lives of leadership and service as a spirited expression of their faith and learning.