From the Bay to the Bayou
A three-week trip brings environmental science to life
by MaryAlice Bitts
November 25, 2009
Students in the 2009 LUCE semester cast interesting shadows along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Seventeen Dickinson students and three faculty members gathered rich life experiences as they gathered data this month while traveling to Louisiana as part of the 2009 Environmental Studies LUCE Semester.
Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, the LUCE semester invites students to research watershed ecosystems and communities through classroom activities, independent study, community-based fieldwork and immersion experiences in the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Mississippi River Basin.
It's a vigorous and varied interdisciplinary course. And, according to the students who blogged throughout the Louisiana trip, it is also a great deal of fun.
From turbines to tw0-steps: A multidisciplinary approach
As they made their way from Pennsylvania mining country to the marshes of Louisiana, the students planted grasses on a ridge island, collected samples from Terrebone Bay, spoke with researchers at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Wetlands Research Center, sailed on a research vessel, toured an oyster processing plant, debated the role of oil companies in the United States, analyzed specimens in a state-of-the-art laboratory and viewed the slurry spill from a Tennessee power plant. They also learned about strip mining, wind turbines, coastal land loss, mountaintop removal and acid mine drainage.
But it wasn't all about geology, botany and biology. To investigate the cultures affected by the ecosystems they studied, the students soaked in the history and culture of New Orleans, sped across the Intercoastal Canal, dined with Dulac Houma Indians, mastered the two-step, crashed a fais-do-do dance party and jammed with jazz musicians who schooled them in the Delta blues.
Engaged and inspired
Each day of the trip, students wrote about the group’s most recent experiences in a class blog. The posts reflect not only the lessons learned during the trip, but also the students’ enthusiasm while learning them.
“Not five minutes into the drive we see it, the Mississippi River. Cheers and applause erupt from the seats behind me,” wrote student blogger Brendan Young '11, an environmental-science major, on the sixth day of the journey. “[After] all of these long weeks of study and lectures, we can finally put a face to the name. This trip has given me the most education of my academic career.”
Cara Applestein '11 and Breanna Marr '11 likewise recalled their excitement at collecting plankton and examining their findings under a microscope. “We saw dinoflagellates, copepods, rotifers and several other plankton groups,” they wrote. "It was fun to watch the little critters scurrying across the screen.”
For Katie Panek '11, the trip was not only enjoyable and educational, but also inspirational.
“I am reminded … that we, as humans, are inseparably linked to our environments ... And I know now, more than ever, that I am not willing to trade that ancient cypress tree, or the bald eagles, or Louisiana’s wetlands, or mountaintops in West Virginia simply to preserve a way of life that is based on the acquisition of more and more things,” she wrote in her November 14 blog entry. “I believe strongly that this place, and so many others, are worth saving.”
View the Luce Semester 2009 blog, From the Bay to the Bayou.
Students learn about a sedimentary-rock outcrop during an on-site lesson in Pennsylvania. Students pose at a dock in Louisiana's Atchafalaya swamplands.