GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 146-3
Presentation Time: 2:10 PM


CLARY, Renee M., Geosciences, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS 39762

Traditionally, our paleontology courses required students to collect local fossils and reconstruct the state’s paleoenvironments. Several optional field excursions provided students with unique fossil sites, some of which would not be accessible to the general public. In Fall 2018, the Principles of Paleoecology course was modified to include community engaged learning (CEL) that would involve students in studying the local area, consider contemporary issues, and facilitate a broader understanding of the paleontology content. Because of the CEL project, the fossil collection site became 16th section land in Oktibbeha County, MS that is owned by the school board and leased for income. Oktibbeha County is ranked in the top 20 income disparate counties in the US.

The 2018 collecting site has large exposed areas of Cretaceous chalk with marine fossils weathering from the outcrops. Additionally, the site is a Black Belt Prairie remnant that hosts several modern endemic and disjunct species. A local informal group leases the property to preserve its biodiversity. Students were tasked with collecting fossils, reconstructing the Cretaceous marine paleoenvironment based on these fossils, and proposing solutions for the eventual disposition of the site. The four essential CEL components were interwoven throughout the semester: 1) CEL complemented course objectives, 2) reciprocity existed between students and the CEL partner, 3) the course incorporated ongoing reflections and 4) the CEL project was disseminated. Guest leaders extended the paleontology content by providing insight into modern biodiversity, forestry practices, and the local school board’s position for the land’s use. For the final examination, students presented their solutions to the community partners. All students promoted preservation of the prairie site with proposals aimed at broadening understanding and participation of the general public, local K-12 schools, and college students through non-destructive practices. Students reflected that CEL helped to make broader connections to the community and current issues through an active hands-on approach. Perhaps the greatest indicator of CEL success is that some students continued to develop outreach and informal education activities for the community after the semester ended.