211 Linking Climate Science and Biodiversity through Experiential Learning at Chowan University

Monday, 11 January 2016
James ″Bo″ Dame, Chowan University, Murfreesboro, NC; and H. L. McGuire

Handout (3.4 MB)

Chowan University (CU) is a 4-year liberal arts institution located in rural Northeastern North Carolina. Approximately 77% of the 1400 students identify themselves as non-white, and many are first-generation college students. The university offers two Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology (Allied Health Track and Environmental Biology Track). Biology majors typically account for approximately 14% of the total student body, but only about 10% of these enroll in the Environmental Biology Track.

The Department of Biology and Physical Sciences at CU is actively working towards emphasizing climate change and biodiversity as central pedagogical themes. We recognize climate change as the most significant issue of our time, and realize the importance of long-term field studies to understand and educate for climate change and its impacts. Our objectives are to increase climate literacy and promote an appreciation of the linkages between biodiversity and climate. Our approach is to integrate classroom instruction with biodiversity monitoring and student/faculty research.

The American Meteorological Society's (AMS) Climate Studies course provides a foundation for these efforts. The course is a dynamic investigation of Earth's climate system using real-world data. It will be offered to majors and non-majors beginning in Spring 2016. My attendance at the AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project Course Implementation Workshop in May 2015 provided invaluable instructional support through presentations, discussion groups, and networking. Selected topics from the Climate Studies course are currently incorporated into existing courses including: Environmental Science, Earth Science, Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, Ecology, Wetlands, Vertebrate Natural History, and Wildlife and Fisheries. Additionally, data and materials from the Climate Studies course are used for outreach events and presentations open to the local community.

The integration of classroom instruction and experiential learning is accomplished through activities at the department's Meherrin River Field Site and sites along North Carolina's Outer Banks. The Meherrin River Field Site was established in 2013 through an agreement with the Town of Murfreesboro, NC. The department has sole use of the 120 acre tract for long-term ecological monitoring, research, and education. The site is located approximately 1.5 miles from campus along the Meherrin River in Hertford County, NC. It consists of riparian, cypress-gum swamp, and bottom-land hardwood forest habitats transitioning to pine upland. The long-term monitoring efforts at the site support student research projects, and are incorporated into courses and extracurricular activities. Similar activities are conducted along the Outer Banks in dune/beach, maritime forest, inter-dune pond, salt marsh, and estuarine habitats. Use of these sites is accomplished through partnerships with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and Audubon's Pine Island Sanctuary. Students are involved in all aspects of monitoring, conduct independent research projects, and are integral participants in faculty research. Data are shared with state agencies providing professional networking opportunities for students.

Experiential learning is a common thread throughout this effort. The Climate Studies course (as well as existing courses) involves analysis and interpretation of current and past climatological data. Moreover, the availability of weekly climate news provides an opportunity to discuss current events that affect student's lives. The monitoring and research components of our effort are inherently hands-on, and allow students to apply concepts learned in the classroom. These field activities facilitate integration and synthesis of climate concepts with ecological theory and biodiversity principles, leading to a deeper understanding of the link between biodiversity and climate.

Expected outcomes from this effort include: 1) an exposure of underrepresented students from different academic backgrounds to climate science, 2) a greater understanding of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change, 3) an increase in enrollment and graduation from our department's environmental program, and 4) a greater student awareness of careers in the environmental and physical sciences.

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