Dr. Dana J. Somers, Biology

Integrating Environmental and Economic Sustainability in Fermentation Microbiology 

As a participant in the 2019 Valley and Ridge workshop, it was my goal to identify ways to expand my Biology course “Fermentation Microbiology” to include aspects of environmental and economic sustainability. The course is designed so that students learn research techniques relevant to microbial fermentation during the first half of the semester, and in the second half of the semester small teams of students design and implement their own research projects. In the past, students have developed research questions relating to cellulosic biofuels, bioremediation, beer, wine, and kombucha.    

I came away from Valley and Ridge 2019 excited and inspired by what I learned, both from the workshop presenters as well as the other faculty attending the workshop with me. Through my experiences at the workshop, I developed two major ideas to help students utilize resources in the local environment and central PA community more effectively, and I plan to implement these in the Spring 2020 offering of this course.    

First, I plan to add an experiential learning component at the Dickinson College farm. The college farm features a biogas digestor that produces fuel and other byproducts used in many different aspects on Dickinson’s campus. I will have students in my class visit the farm to learn about biogas fermentation and design a small experiment to sample the reactor and examine its microbial composition. Second, I will ask students to explore economic sustainability in their final research projects, using the Center Sustainability Education as a resource for project consultations. Students will be encouraged to source material for fermentation, either microbes or carbon sources, from the local region and will be required to articulate the economic impact of their project. Based on these two modifications, my course should satisfy the requirements for the Sustainability Connections (SCON) designation.