In support of Colgate’s strategic plan, the Max A. Shacknai COVE announced the availability of new course development grants that promote civic education in the curriculum in 2014. These grants aim to provide faculty with the resources to offer students immediate opportunities to apply classroom learning to support or enhance the work of social change agencies.
Mike Loranty, associate professor of geography, was awarded the course development grant this year to support his Environmental Geography (GEOG 131) course. GEOG 131 is an introductory physical geography course focused on understanding the Earth as a system. The course examines atmospheric processes, hydrology, geomorphology, and biological dynamics on a global scale. Loranty partnered with Experience Learning, a nonprofit experiential education organization located in Circleville, W. Va., with two campuses: one at Spruce Knob (the highest point in West Virginia), and a second campus recently acquired near Sweetwater Farm. The trip included eight students. Jeff Bary, associate professor of astronomy and physics, joined the trip. Bary is a native of West Virginia and has a keen interest in Appalachian social and environmental issues.
At Spruce Knob, the group conducted aerial surveys of the property using drones, practiced map and compass skills to orienteer to the top of Spruce Knob, performed a stream survey, and went through a mile-long cave. At Sweetwater Farm, they helped with invasive species removal, planted a small garden, installed a weather station, and performed several forest surveys to help with a maple sugaring operation that is being developed there. They also explored the logging history of West Virginia and visited the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), where they saw a talk by Colgate alumnus Michael Lam ’11.
The drone mapping and orienteering activities provided students with hands-on experience relating to general cartography principles and technologies introduced early in the course. They also observed the elevational gradients in ecosystems on the way up Spruce Knob, and saw karst topography firsthand. The stream study connected to their study of hydrology and ecosystems health. One of their in-class assignments was to examine hydrology data from a US Geological Survey stream gauge, and they were able to visit the gauge where the data had come from on the Shaver’s Fork of the Cheat River. In class, Loranty also included new readings that described the logging history of West Virginia to help students understand how humans have shaped landscapes that we often consider pristine. The visit to Cass as well as the only two remaining tracts of old-growth forest in the state allowed students to see these effects firsthand.
Moving forward, Loranty would love to continue this trip, and hopefully build on it. He sees possibilities to expand it to include additional time to visit parts of the state where active resource extraction is occurring in order to highlight ongoing issues related to environmental and social justice. He and Bary have plans to attend the Appalachian Studies Conference next spring to learn more about regional issues and explore how they can build this into a more robust long-term partnership. Their hope is to expand this to be a modular trip capable of being linked with multiple courses.