South-Central Section - 51st Annual Meeting - 2017

Paper No. 28-8
Presentation Time: 4:10 PM


TURNER, David R.1, OXLEY, Susan2, SPERLING, Rick3 and FARIS, Nicole2, (1)Department of Physics and Environmental Sciences, St. Mary's University, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228, (2)Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, St. Mary's University, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228, (3)Department of Psychology, St. Mary's University, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228,

High-impact educational practices improve the learning outcomes of undergraduate students in STEM disciplines, especially underrepresented populations such as first-generation, low-income, and minority students. Field-based experiential learning is one such high-impact practices, but while field work is a traditional part of geosciences, it is not often linked to other STEM disciplines, and the broader effects of hands-on field activities are not well-characterized at the undergraduate level, especially for universities in an urban setting. The Departments of Chemistry/Biochemistry and Physics and Environmental Sciences at St. Mary’s University, a Catholic 4-year liberal arts school in a mixed residential/commercial area located on the Westside of San Antonio, have collaborated on a NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (NSF-IUSE) grant to jointly develop and implement a two-semester course in Field-Based Environmental Chemistry. The centerpiece of the course is the characterization and monitoring of chemical and physical conditions at an urban site undergoing rehabilitation to create Confluence Park, a new city park and environmental education center bordered by the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, just downstream from the downtown core.

Beginning in Fall 2016, Chemistry and Environmental Science students have worked together in small, collaborative learning groups to develop sampling plans and laboratory methodologies to apply to water and soil at the site. Students have been introduced to industry standards for environmental site assessment, field analytical methods, standard lab analysis and analytical methods developed by agencies such as the USEPA.

Through this interdisciplinary team-learning process, students share their different perspectives. Environmental Science students learn about the challenges of producing high-quality laboratory results, making the analytical process less ‘black box’, while Chemistry students experience their discipline in a place-centered, natural context.

Future course activities will incorporate experimental design, data analysis and display, and communication of results to a diverse audience. Student learning outcomes and pre- and post-attitudes will be assessed throughout the 2 semesters to evaluate program effectiveness.

  • Turner_SCGSA_Mar2017_Final_ForUpload.pdf (10.7 MB)