Students in the North Carolina Summer Geology Field Course, led by ECU teaching associate professor Dr. Stephen Harper, visit sites in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado over a six-week period.
January 7, 2016
"Dr. Goodwillie's vegetation sampling field course has been a point of pride for the department for some time," said Dr. Jeffrey McKinnon, professor and chair of the Department of Biology. "It is remarkable for the way it merges outstanding, authentic learning experiences with the generation of powerful long-term data sets. Moreover, students leave the course with practical, marketable skills."
Since the project's inception in 2002, more than 120 students have received training in the Vegetation Sampling course.
"Year after year, I am delighted by the energy, curiosity and diverse perspectives that my students bring to the course. I demand their professionalism and they always exceed my expectations, but we manage to have a lot of fun in the process," said Goodwillie.
The field component takes place in early August, after students have received intensive training in plant identification and field methods. While in the field, students work in groups to collect the annual data set, quantifying the presence and abundance of plant species in the experimental plots. During the fall semester, students then learn how to use the data sets to test hypotheses of their own design and communicate those findings in a final paper and presentation.
According to Goodwillie, several of the students have presented their results at regional meetings and during ECU's Research and Creative Achievement Week.
"For some of those students, the course provides training for future careers in ecology and resource management," said Goodwillie. "But for all the students, including the majority who will go on to health related fields, the course builds broadly transferable skills in data management, statistical analysis, critical thinking and communication. It also promotes lifelong interest and knowledge of the local flora."
Geological Sciences Signature Experiences
Faculty in the Department of Geological Sciences provide two opportunities to ECU and Harriot College students that involve practical, everyday research. Dr. Stephen Harper, teaching associate professor, leads a group of students to New Mexico for the North Carolina Summer Geology Field Course, and Dr. J.P. Walsh, associate professor, directs the Summester at the Coast program.
The North Carolina Summer Geology Field Course, which has been taught for 51 years, is a six-week, capstone course conducted in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado within a geologic setting that includes the Southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado Plateau, Rio Grande Rift, Jemez Volcanic Center and the San Juan Mountains. In recent years, faculty from East Carolina, UNC-Charlotte, Appalachian State University, Groundwater Management Associates, the North Carolina Geologic Survey, Noble Energy and SMK Geosciences have participated in the instruction of the field course, and during the past five years, students from more than 30 universities have participate in the course.
The course emphasizes field mapping and is designed to train students in field oriented problem solving and critical thinking, which will prepare them for a professional career in the geological sciences. In addition to field mapping, students take part in applied geology, including hydrogeology and slope stability analysis. As part of the course, students are taken on several one- to two-day field trips to the Jemez Volcanic Center;Bandelier National Monument; Great Sand Dunes National Park;Creede, CO Mining District;Durango, CO; San Juan Volcanic Field; and Silverton, CO.
"Fieldwork is an essential part of a student's geologic education," said Dr. Steve Culver, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences. "The summer field course in Colorado and New Mexico is our undergraduate program's capstone experience that helps students assimilate all of the geologic knowledge they have acquired during their undergraduate careers. It truly brings the subject alive as students actively interact with their geologic environment and learn to map it. And, of course, there's no better way to get to know a rock than hitting it with a hammer!"
This past fall 2015, ECU alumnus Robert VanGundy generously donated funds to establish a scholarship endowment for students participating in the summer field course. The "VanGundy Geology Field Scholarship" is designed to assist one or two students attend the field course each year.
Culver, who is excited about the endowed gift, said, "The required summer field course currently costs students $4,200, and so the scholarships will be greatly valued by future generations of students."
Geological Sciences Summester at the Coast
Summester at the Coast is a month-long summer program for undergraduates interested in coastal science issues. It provides an opportunity for students to learn about coastal geoscience and ocean research, while living at the coast. Housed at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute, and held from mid-May through mid-June, the program emphasizes experiential education on the Outer Banks.
"We bring students in the field, to beaches and on the water to collect samples and make measurements. Then, in the classroom and lab, students study processes and learn from their data," said Walsh.
One of the benefits, according to Walsh, is getting the students out into the field to experience the environment and learn about it with the highest level of technology available.
"Coastal research involves getting wet and muddy as well as working with state-of-the-art instrumentation and software," said Walsh. "The Summester at the Coast strives to give students a comprehensive field and lab experience."
Peter Rowe, a former Summester student participant, said, "One of the things I enjoyed the most, was the opportunity to do hands-on field research, which is something you don't really get in a typical undergraduate program."
"I would definitely recommend the Summester at the Coast to anybody who is generally interested in not only coastal science, but biology, conservation and sustainability," continued Rowe. "It's so broad and so applicable to many aspects of science."
Practical, hands-on scholarship programs at ECU provide students with a variety of keys to success. Through these programs, students learn how to conduct research, solve problems and think critically. Students are able to walk away with broadly transferable skills and training for future careers.
Harriot College Dean William Downs visited the sites of these summer programs in 2015.
"I cannot emphasize how important and impressive these opportunities are for ECU students," said Downs. "The faculty leaders really have developed some special experiences, ones that you would be hard pressed to find of this quality and in this combination anywhere else. Field experiences like these bring learning to life, and an ECU education is dramatically strengthened by them."