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Playing in the mud

June 16, 2008

Playing in the mud

Outfitted in waders and armed with oranges, shallow plastic trays and pH testing kits, faculty members and alumni trudged into Clover Creek. Under the watchful guidance of environmental studies faculty, the group was learning to collect field data about the creek, which is an important watershed in this area, explained Jill Whitman, geosciences professor. It’s the same type of work students in the “Environmental Methods of Investigation” course learn to do. The field trip was part of a three-day environmental studies curriculum evaluation and planning workshop held at the end of May. The purpose was to evaluate the “Environmental Methods of Investigation” course in the context of the environmental studies program.

“It gave us the time and a focus to reflect on the program in a constructive manner,” explained Rose McKenney, associate professor of geosciences and environmental studies.

Participants included alumni, faculty from the interdisciplinary environmental studies program and faculty with an interest in environmental issues. The workshop was funded through a $90,000 grant the environmental studies program received in December from Wiancko Charitable Foundation. The money is also funding three student-faculty research teams this summer and several mini-grants.

At the workshop, participants examined the course, looking at its strengths and areas for improvement. The discussion served as a catalyst to scrutinize the entire interdisciplinary environmental studies program and provided a starting point for more in-depth conversations about its goals and aspirations, which will occur later this summer, McKenney said.

The workshop also served as an introduction for some about the program, and connected local community groups and Pierce County with the work PLU is doing.

For some faculty members, like assistant religion professor Kevin O’Brien, the field trip to Clover Creek was their first experience out in the field collecting scientific data. He admits that initially he was wary of donning waders and slogging through the water, but he quickly found it enjoyable.

The oranges, plastic tray and pH testing kits all help evaluate the health of the creek. The oranges are used to test velocity; muck from the creek’s bottom is scooped up in the plastic trays, and the insect larvae found in it tell about creek conditions; and the pH tests the alkalinity and acidity of the water.

“It was really fun,” he said. “And they (environmental studies faculty) get to do this with their class.”