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Environmental Studies: New Major, Real-world Research

One of our first interdisciplinary programs gets its own stand-alone major

Global Vision:
A new major is rather worldly

Home and Away: Adirondack Semester
Our newest off-campus program is our nearest

Field Days: Integrated Science Education Initiative
Redefining how we teach the sciences

University Fellows Program
Student-professor partnerships open new horizons in learning

Alumni Accomplishments

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Field Days
St. Lawrence faculty and students get out to the fields-and the rivers and forests---on campus through the new Integrated Science Education Initiative.
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 dirty.

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," he says.

"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.