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Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

Providing ECU Students Real World Experiences, Practical Knowledge, Skills

January 7, 2016

By Lacey Gray

Archaeology Summer Experience
Across a range of programs in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences students venture well beyond the comfortable confines of their classrooms to gain invaluable field experience. Each summer session, faculty in the college offer students unique, experiential learning opportunities that help distinguish an ECU education. Traveling to an historic port town on the Cape Fear River, protected wetlands, the Outer Banks of NC, or as far as the rugged terrain of New Mexico and Colorado, Harriot College students studying during the summer become the newest cohorts to benefit from distinctive experiences provided by ECU.

Archaeology Summer Field School
Dr. Charles Ewen, professor of anthropology and director of the Phelps Archaeology Laboratory, leads one of the college's field schools, offering students real-world experiences. The ECU summer field school in historical archaeology is a partnership between ECU's Department of Anthropology and North Carolina's Department of Cultural Resources, and is designed to allow students to investigate the pristine Colonial town of Brunswick Town, one of North Carolina's earliest ports founded in 1726 and later abandoned in 1776.

"Our summer field schools are a vital part of our archaeology curriculum. Students learn, in a hands-on fashion, the basic techniques of archaeological field methods including excavation, mapping, record keeping and artifact identification," said Dr. Randy Daniel, chair of the Department of Anthropology.

The 2015 archaeology field school, which ran from May 18 through June 23, included 13 undergraduate students, one graduate student and two graduate student field assistants. In this first phase of anticipated, extended research, students concentrated on recording an exposed 18th century wharf. Excavations at the west end of the exposed timbers were conducted to determine how the wharf was constructed.

While recording their findings at the wharf, students contended with rising waters, tar filled mud and even the occasional alligator. A wide variety of 18th century artifacts were recovered during the field school, ranging from delft ceramics to wine bottle fragments and wooden barrel hoops.

"In all, 197 bags of artifacts were collected, representing approximately 8,000 –10,000 artifacts," said Ewen. "These are currently undergoing processing at the Phelps Archaeology Lab. Those perishable artifacts requiring further stabilization are receiving conservation treatment by the department's conservator."

As part of the thesis for her MA in Anthropology, Hannah Smith, who graduated in spring 2014, conserved two leather shoes and a wool cap that had been recovered from the muck surrounding the exposed wharf timbers. She returned to the site last summer to assist the students.

"It was very nice to see such an interesting and vulnerable site like Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site's waterfront get the attention it deserves. This area of the site is yielding valuable information about Brunswick Town's colonial history and the role of shipping and naval stores in the growth of the region," said Smith. "The work these students are doing is adding to the body of knowledge that site staff and volunteers have been amassing over the past several years."

Smith went on to discuss how valuable hands-on research is for students.

"Field schools like Dr. Ewen's are vital for those looking to work in archaeology. While many skills can be learned in the classroom, others, such as spotting soil changes or the use of a shovel and trowel are best learned through trial and error in the field," Smith stated.

Anthropology Chair Daniel concluded, "Students taking this class are not simply participating in a pedagogical exercise. Rather, the information gathered in the class is part of Dr. Ewen's long-term research, so students are learning about the nature of research as well as archaeological methods. In short, our archaeology field school exemplifies the nature of the scholar-teacher practice."

Biology Field Course
Dr. Carol Goodwillie, associate professor of biology, leads another of the college's field courses available to students. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Vegetation Sampling and Analysis undergraduate course contributes to a long-term field experiment in plant community ecology. The field course is held on two acres of protected wetland at ECU's West Research Campus and is designed to document the effects of disturbance (mowing) and fertilization on the diversity and composition of the plant community. The work can help clarify how humans affect the natural landscape.

Biology Summer Experience


"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."


Summester Summer Experience