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English Class Pays it Forward, Project Iris Garden

October 5, 2009 -- By Alexey Kalinin, MSU student

In winter 2009, the idea to restore Danforth Park resulted from a difficult period in MSU’s environmental history, which included the cutting of hundreds of trees due to a pine bark beetle infestation and the building of the new Chemistry and Biochemistry Building which required the loss of many trees. A coalition of students, faculty and staff from Facility Services formed to explore constructive ideas for sustainability on the MSU campus. Restoring the long neglected Danforth Park was a good starting point.

When it was built in 1929 and 1930, Danforth Park, formerly called The Iris Garden for all its irises, had a beautiful tea garden landscape. It provided a serene and beautiful space for students. With support from Una Herrick, then Dean of Women Students, every female student on campus contributed $0.50 to the building of the beautiful garden, located south of Herrick Hall. Soon, each male student was contributing $1.00. Building this park during the Great Depression was a grassroots, community building effort with many different groups contributing pieces of the park such as the stone work, the benches, the sundial, the flowers and VOILA!

Fast forward 80 years. A group of students concerned about sustainability issues were scratching their heads and wondering how to get the park project going. Fortunately, Jill Davis’ English 221 (Intermediate Technical Writing) class heard about the project and selected it for their service learning project. Public relations and fundraising campaigns were developed by Davis’ students after they read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The book provides a concrete framework for creating a campaign and the students put it to the test.

Students named the effort Project Iris Garden, and organized and implemented the following:

  • Designing, producing and selling “Save Danforth Park” buttons and t-shirts.
  • Creating an awareness campaign with posters describing the project.
  • Speaking to various groups, clubs and the Greek societies.
  • Gathering archival research from the Renne Library about the park’s history and creating a booklet of said history.
  • Creating a website and a Facebook page.
  • Preparing and distributing surveys to gather information about student needs regarding open space on campus.
  • Writing and submitting grant proposals to different organizations, including the Parent and Family Association, ASMSU Student Senate, Early Childhood Project, and the Bozeman Beautification Board, all of which gave partial funding or some form of support for the project.
  • Networking with campus government groups.

Project Iris Garden brought the class together with a common goal and really built a sense of community. The students found that they could affect change in positive ways and that one voice matters! They could see within a month’s time how, as Gladwell said, “little things make a big difference.” Six months later the group has a vision and a design for restoration of the park, thanks to Errol Schuman, of New West Landscapes, who donated his design time to the project. A big fundraiser, the “Off the Wall” Art Swap, was held in September. A new student club, Students for Danforth Park, has been formed and will see this project through to completion.

“This project gave me an opportunity to care about something on the MSU campus, to write real grants, to present information to real people about our vision for restoring the park, and to see that one voice in a community can make a difference,” said Raquel Peterson, a sophomore in the Department of Health and Human Development.

“What an adventure we had together in this class restoring, educating, developing, writing, researching and instructing others on this wonderful park on campus,” said Tyler Miller, a junior in the Department of Film and Photography. “I have enjoyed so much creating a website, posters and other ‘sticky’ material for this ‘pay it forward for MSU’ class project.” 

To learn more about Project Iris Garden, please visit

Alexey Kalinin is a senior in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture. Alexey, who is from Lugovaya, Russia, is the student committee chair for Students for Danforth Park.

Updated: 04/15/2011