St. Lawrence University students interested in all things chocolate are now able to embark on a tasty year-long adventure that includes studying chocolate’s rich history and its impact on past and present culture thanks to a recent grant from Mars Wrigley, the world's leading manufacturer of chocolate, chewing gum, mints, and fruity confections.
The University’s famed Sustainability Program is one of 10 educational and cultural recipients of this year’s Forrest E. Mars, Jr. Chocolate History Research Grant. The funds are powering the “Chocolate Passport,” a unique interdisciplinary educational and experiential course of study that will address the traditional, spiritual, and medicinal uses of Theobroma cacao, its agricultural production, the global market for chocolate, ethics, and sustainability of this market, culinary uses of chocolate, the chemistry of chocolate, and its role in the art of all cultures.
“I see the Chocolate Passport as grassroots in nature, sparking a shared joy of chocolate through diverse learning experiences,” says Sara Ashpole, the faculty director of St. Lawrence’s Sustainability Program. “When students learn about sustainability through an interdisciplinary lens they can relate to like chocolate, they start to understand the vast interconnectedness and complexities of our world.”
“I see the Chocolate Passport as grassroots in nature, sparking a shared joy of chocolate through diverse learning experiences. When students learn about sustainability through an interdisciplinary lens they can relate to like chocolate, they start to understand the vast interconnectedness and complexities of our world.” -Sara Ashpole
The open call for collaboration on an interdisciplinary chocolate project was announced during the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus according to Ashpole, but that didn’t stop faculty representing several academic departments from expressing interest in embedding lessons and activities into their courses as part of the experience.
Faculty involved represent a myriad of departments including biology; history; environmental studies; performance and communication arts; film and representation studies; Caribbean and Latin American studies; anthropology; world languages, cultures, and media; government; psychology; and chemistry. A Sophomore Success Initiative seminar and a First-Year Program seminar taught by Ashpole will foster inquiry-based research skills allowing students the creativity to share their own ideas and interests around the sustainability of Chocolate. The University’s Dining Services and the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery teams also plan to be involved.
Students are able to apply for grant funding to support independent studies and research projects focused on chocolate. There are plans to have chocolate activities each semester open to all students with guest speakers from across the faculty. The year will culminate in a Chocolate Passport Festival, where students will showcase their chocolate projects and celebrate the joy of chocolate.
St. Lawrence University’s Sustainability Program gives the next generation of thinkers and leaders the tools to tackle the globally important challenges of sustainability through immersive year-long, hands-on learning experiences integrated with campus. The program’s site, located just five miles from campus, includes a traditional farmhouse used as a student residence, classroom space, and approximately 33.5 acres for organic gardens, orchards, maple bush, and livestock.