2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


MOORE, Alexandra, Cornell University, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Snee Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-1504, am113@cornell.edu

The Cornell University Field Program in Earth and Environmental Systems is a semester-length program of 18 credits distributed across five courses of hands-on field learning. The EES Field Program is held during the spring semester on the Big Island of Hawai'i. There, students study the interacting components of the Earth system in what is unarguably the world's most vibrant natural laboratory. The combination of a hot spot island chain, 4000 meters of vertical relief, and persistent NE trade winds produce a 4-dimensional matrix of environmental parameters that can be manipulated simply by moving from one place to another. Alpine, desert, rainforest, grassland, and marine ecosystems are located within 50 miles of each other, and are developed on a substrate age gradient that ranges from a maximum of 5 million years, to this morning's lavas erupting from Kilauea. Stewardship and the sustainable management of these unique natural phenomena are among the principle cultural values of Hawai'i's indigenous community.

“My semester in Hawai'i was the most exciting, intellectually fascinating, challenging and rewarding experience of my entire college career.” Comments such as this one are nearly universal among our student participants, and those of us who went to field camp ourselves probably expressed similar sentiments after that experience as well. That field learning evokes such response may be reason enough to justify the endeavor, nevertheless, we have spent considerable time examining what we believe to be the causes of such enthusiasm, as well as some of the other benefits that students may not themselves consider. Most important is the relationship between field study and research on human cognition, which unequivocally demonstrates that authentic experience with the practice of science is the best way to learn. Field study, additionally, engenders independence, self-reliance, and a sense of accomplishment that few other learning environments produce. In the EES program students work extensively with non-academic mentors, wherein students learn that “normal people” are capable of accomplishing extraordinary things. What students derive from the sum of these experiences goes beyond scientific learning to include empowerment and inspiration, which is well-documented in the achievements of our program alumni.