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Common Experience focuses on future of river

By Clara Cobb
University Star reporter
June 1, 2007

As students sun themselves on the knoll at Sewell Park, five endangered species hide below in the cool San Marcos River.

And there is even more hiding below what Common Experience members hope to discover this year. The river was the inspiration for the 2007-2008 Common Experience theme, A Water Planet: A River Runs Through Us.

Pam Wuestenberg, Common Experience co-chair, is excited about this year’s water theme. She said the theme was two years in the making, as the planning for the proposal began in 2005.

Committee members agree the theme could not be more timely or relevant.

“I think this year will be the best one yet,” said Wuestenberg, assistant dean of University College. “We think this is a theme that is going to resonate.”

According to the Common Experience Web site, water as a subject has particular relevance to Texas State. The spring-fed San Marcos River runs through campus as a constant reminder of how water affects our lives. The nexus of the Common Experience parallels this literal flow: it fosters students’ confluent thinking where discovery in one area will lead them to discovery in another.

Linda Kelsey-Jones, Common Experience committee member, said she believes water plays an important role in fine arts.

“The metaphors we use in poetry like ‘I’m feeling well’ or ‘up the creek without a paddle’ utilize water and illustrate how integral water is in our daily lives,” said Kelsey-Jones, art and design lecturer. “Songs are written about water every day. Artists use water as inspiration. In fact, the colors used in art itself that encompass water are referred to as ‘cool’ colors as water is, indeed, cool.”

While the Common Experience event calendar will include several art and culturally oriented events designed to enhance learning, Kelsey-Jones said this theme is important for the surrounding community as well.

“Awareness is what it’s about,” she said. “Awareness of water on our planet and our bodies, and how to be responsible with it.”

Committee member Ron Coley agrees most Texans are not aware of how water is consumed.

“In San Antonio alone, the average person uses 140 gallons of water a day,” said Coley, director of the Aquarena Center. “Compare that with 75 gallons a day for the average person in the remainder of the U.S., 25 gallons a day in Europe and 2.5 gallons a day in Africa, and the problem becomes clear: we are wasting far too much of our water here in the Edwards Aquifer region.”

He said people are dependent on water as Central Texas continues to expand and grow.

“The pre-historical presence of human civilization and the modern presence of civilization are 13,000 years of constant occupation of this region around the headwaters of the San Marcos River should illustrate the absolute necessity of the river itself to our community and its citizens,” Coley said.

According to the Web site, water is a focus in science, law, history, anthropology, economics, political science and international relations — mainly because it is such a vital part of life and human existence. This wonderment unfolds into aesthetic expression in art, music, poetry, literature, religious rites and cultural rituals, all awash in the world of ideas, according to the site.

Coley said the interdisciplinary benefits of Common Experience are unparallel, regardless of major.

“If we’re talking about how the theme applies to say a PR major, here’s an example,” he said. “If we could get the message out better about wasting water and the catastrophic effects it has on our local environment through marketing campaigns and the like, we could avoid spending time and money on such things as legislation in the state government to regulate what we can manage ourselves just by making small changes in our lifestyles to be more water conscious.”

Coley said there are several ways to learn about water and conservation.

“The first Wednesday of every month, we host Catch A Rising Star here at the headwaters to promote the river and eco-awareness,” Coley said. “Another good way to find out more about the river itself and its perils and benefits to our environment is to go to the Alkek Library or to the Aquarena Center’s gift shop and pick up a copy of the documentary River Of Innocence.”

The Common Experience is a yearlong initiative of Texas State University-San Marcos designed to cultivate a common intellectual conversation across the campus, to enhance student participation in the intellectual life of the campus and to foster a sense of community across our entire campus and extended community. For more information, visit the Web site at www.txstate.edu/commonexperience.