2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 215-6
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


CHRISTENSEN, David, Biology, Westfield State University, 577 Western Avenue, Westfield, MA 01086, WEISS, Tarin Harrar, Chemical and Physical Sciences, Westfield State University, 577 Western Avenue, Westfield, MA 01086 and BUTLER, Samuel J., Environmental Science Biology, Westfield State University, 577 Western Avenue, Westfield, MA 01086, tweiss@westfield.ma.edu

Providing opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in research experiences supports the nationwide call to motivate and sustain student interest in STEM. At WSU, science students participated in an authentic long-term multidisciplinary study of Kinne Brook, a stream targeted by MA Department of Fish and Game (MDFG), MA Division of Ecological Restoration (DER), Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as key to restoring connectivity in the Westfield River watershed. The purpose of the project was to study the stream system’s response to the removal of a small dam and include students in the research.

Research themes centered on stream morphology, hydrodynamics, connectivity, and brook trout habitat to quantify biotic or abiotic changes resulting from stream barrier removal. Data was collected in 2012-2015. Undergraduate science majors, enrolled in a summer session conservation course, participated in the study. Classes met for 8 hours a week for 6 weeks. Premised on an experiential learning model, most class meetings were held in the field (for data collection). Student groups investigated each research theme, learning to 1) use scientific equipment, 2) collect, record, and analyze data, and 3) summarize findings and results. Specifically, students measured stream profiles and cross sections, macroinvertebrate and fish populations, habitat suitability, water quality, terrestrial plant coverage, and conducted pebble counts. Yearly, all data was analyzed and compiled into a final report for the DER. In addition, small groups of students annually presented findings at a state environmental science conference.

Student evaluation data indicates high student approval ratings for the course. During both the data collection and report writing phases, students were challenged to apply knowledge and skills and acquire greater appreciation of the nature of science. This course models a practical, affordable, and effective means for engaging students in science that is highly adaptable to other institutions.