St. Lawrence faculty and students get out to the fields-and
the rivers and forests---on campus through the new Integrated Science
By Lisa M. Cania M'82
ISEI involves almost two dozen faculty from biology, chemistry, geology,
psychology, environmental studies and mathematics. Together and independently,
they have begun to develop courses that use the 300-acre Little River
area of campus as an outdoor laboratory. Working with students in
those courses, they will create a varied, long-term, interdisciplinary
database describing plant, animal, insect and bird populations from
historical and contemporary perspectives. So--rain or shine, in snow
or mud, students and faculty are outside mapping land, digging soil
samples, catching frogs, examining tree bark. Sometimes, they get
They also get worked, because ISEI puts more demands on everyone.
As Mark Erickson, Chapin professor of geology, says: "There's an
incredible difference between going to my shelf, pulling out a notebook
and sharing course content for 40 minutes, and ISEI, in which the
uncertainty of discovery is present every day. ISEI is a dynamic,
sometimes spontaneous, experience that keeps my own learning curve
running parallel to that of the students'." Erika Barthelmess, assistant
professor of biology, agrees. Her labs no longer are confined to "canned
experiments with hypothetical data taken from textbooks," she says.
Barthelmess has so many ideas for applications of the ISEI project
that it's hard to keep up. She's working on a sophomore-level research
course that will pair sophomores with seniors who are working on their
theses or independent projects. The sophomores will see first-hand
the methods of field data collection and analysis and later, as seniors,
will have experience with the field site and can extend the research
they began when they served as assistants.
"This is the kind of study that most people first do as graduate
students," says Barthelmess. Not only do St. Lawrence students gain
experience early, they collect data that their faculty will use in
the classroom to help teach future generations, she points out.
Geology's Erickson is no stranger to this sort of interdisciplinary,
intergenerational, student-faculty collaboration. "ISEI gives us permission,
if you will, to make the largest part of our courses 'hands-on' and
to transform the faculty-student relationship into one of mentoring,"
"Our students can make a difference in understanding the paleoclimate
and Earth's history," says Erickson. "By using the region as the basis
for understanding climatic history, our students can extend their
findings globally." The ISEI work on the Little River is real.