Feature: River Summer Field Course

Journey of Discovery

The Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges & Universities is developing an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional undergraduate summer field course on the Hudson River that draws together faculty and students in the region. Starting in the Adirondacks and culminating 5 weeks later in Manhattan, River Summer focuses on an integrated, interdisciplinary analysis of the development of the Hudson watershed.

Each week relocating another step downriver, teams of faculty from diverse institutions - research universities to liberal arts and community colleges - lead week-long intensive field experiences. River Summer is a journey of discovery, where students and faculty learn in which they live and work, and how they are connected to it.

Pedagogy: A Field and Place-Based Experience

The objectives of River Summer are to promote awareness and appreciation for the Hudson and its watershed as a natural resource and cultural environment. Using the geology, hydrology, and landscape of the River as a foundation, River Summer focuses on understanding the Hudson’s natural resources within the context of its cultural history. River Summer’s day-to-day program was created to integrate the field/place-based experience with cognitive and meta-cognitive research showing that people learn best when they take control of their own learning. It provides immersive field experience in which students can integrate and apply material that they have learned from various courses in their home institutions.

River Summer pedagogy is based on the principles of cognitive psychology and immersive field-, place- and inquiry-based learning. Intensive field programs are memorable, transformative experiences for undergraduate students: they are inherently multidisciplinary and experiential, and address all learning styles (Crimmel, 2003). The curriculum uses local resources and home landscapes to deepen knowledge and meaning through coming to understand the familiar and accessible (Elder, 1998; Williams, 1998). The curriculum is deliberately focused at the convergence of natural sciences, social sciences, law, history and the arts, and fosters a sense of community through human connections (Elder, 1998).

Interdisciplinary Curriculum

The curriculum being piloted this summer is multifaceted. Signature fisheries, critical river habitats, diversity of plants and animals, and function of streams and corridors are topics investigated through sessions in ecology, geology, and geochemistry. Pastoral landscapes, river scenery, and cultural history are examined in an extensive session on Hudson River School painters, continuous writing workshops, and lessons in local archaeology and anthropology. Waterfront revitalization, pollutant remediation, and systems of access are discussed in sessions on local political economy and environmental law.

Through River Summer the Hudson Valley will become an extended laboratory and classroom to investigate the development of the watershed, within an interdisciplinary framework:
     • How does the Hudson River flow and function?
     • How have the watershed geology, anthropology, history, culture, and socioeconomics changed over time?
     • How have we affected the River? How has the River affected us?
     • How does one observe, measure, and document impact and change?

After the initial orientation to that week’s location, students will use an inquiry-based approach to identify interdisciplinary problems (e.g. waterfront revitalization) and address them in small groups for the remainder of the week. Group presentations and cross-group integration will occur on Friday, and they will relocate another step downriver over the weekend. In the final days, when students reach Manhattan, they will prepare group analyses and reports on issues they deem critical to bring to the attention of New York Governor George Pataki.

Benefits to the River and its Society

Local students and faculty learn the science and history that necessarily precede proper management. The curriculum connects lace with self and community (Woodhouse and Knapp 2000), and preparesboth students and faculty to live and work to sustain the places they inhabit. Place-based education such as the River Summer program increases civic consciousness and active participation in democracy (Rural School and Community Trust; Woodhouse and Knapp 2000).

Following the River Summer experience, students will return to their home institutions in the Hudson Valley, where they will continue to encounter topics introduced over the summer, providing opportunities to reinforce and further apply the knowledge they have obtained. River Summer graduates gain a sense of responsibility as they come to see their choices in the context of the development and future of the Hudson system. As scientifically literate citizens, River Summer graduates will continue to draw on and expand their understanding of the Hudson environment throughout their lifetime, especially those who choose to work and live in the Hudson Valley.

Fostering Collaborations

One of River Summer’s great advantages is that its mission and curriculum directly result from the needs and deliberations of Consortium institutions. Through participation in River Summer, like-minded faculty are coming together in a quasi “College of the Hudson Valley” to create cooperative education and research opportunities that are more ambitious and sophisticated than individual schools can accomplish alone. River Summer uses team teaching and student registration among institutions that are geographically and ethnically diverse, with students and faculty who have access to a wide range of resources -- research universities to liberal arts and community colleges.

Development of this program has already started to build community and continues to promote collaborative relationships amongst faculty from diverse institutions. The course will grow a cohort of students with like interests and a common experience. River Summer provides a sense of place to faculty and students alike and will foster the Hudson region as a common learning laboratory.

River Summer Pilot July 2005

Through a grant from the Teagle Foundation, the Environmental Consortium is piloting a condensed River Summer program during this year, whereby faculty fill the roles of teachers and learners by participating in five modules: four on board SUNY Stony Brook’s research vessel Seawolf and one in the Adirondacks. Demonstrating the remarkable community support for this endeavor, 36 people from 22 institutions have volunteered their time this summer to participate.

This summer’s program is supported by the Teagle Foundation, Barnard College, Pace University, the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries [f/k/a The Rivers and Estuaries Center], and the Environmental Consortium. Assistance is also provided by the following Consortium affiliates: Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Institute of Ecosystem Studies (IES), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and the Hudson River Environmental Society

River Summer 2006

The Consortium is currently pursuing funding that will allow us to offer River Summer to in 2006. Throughout the semester, 10-15 faculty will teach in modules over the 5 week semester. The curriculum scaffolding and case studies will inform courses taught by Consortium members at their home institutions throughout the rest of the year, thereby extending their value beyond the summer, strengthening the Hudson content of individual programs, and fostering interest in the River’s future on diverse campuses.

Project Organization and Management

Co-chairs Stephanie Pfirman and John, Cronin, together with project director Tim Kenna, Consortium director Michelle Land, cognitive psychologist Lisa Son, and advisors from representative institutions, oversee project conceptualization, faculty selection, training and integration, institutional issues, implementation, and assessment.

Stephanie Pfirman, co-chair. Professor and Chair of the Environmental Science Department at Barnard College, Pfirman is a leader in environmental curriculum development, and recently published on the importance of interdisciplinary field programs for students and faculty (ES&T, 2005). Pfirman grew up in Poughkeepsie, was an intern while in high school at Marist and Vassar colleges, raced sailboats at Chelsea Yacht Club, and spent a lot of time in the Adirondacks. As a geology major at Colgate, she participated in a summer field program with Selleck (project advisor). She received her PhD from MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and has extensive sea-going experience.

John Cronin, co-chair. Pace University’s Resident Scholar in Environmental Studies and Director of the Pace Academy for the Environment, a regional institute in the office of the university president. Under Cronin, the Pace Academy founded the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities and organized Governor George Pataki’s Rivers and Estuaries Center on the Hudson. A nationally recognized leader in environmental policy and advocacy, Cronin has spent most of his 30-year career on the Hudson River, 17 years as Hudson Riverkeeper.

Tim Kenna, director. Kenna is associate research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and adjunct assistant Professor at Barnard College. Kenna co-developed Barnard’s Environmental Measurements course, an in-depth study of the Hudson Estuary using state of the art instrumentation, field methods and analytical techniques to lead the students through the process of actually conducting an environmental scientific investigation. Kenna grew up in Poughkeepsie, spending his summers in the Adirondacks. Kenna’s BA is from Vassar College and his PhD is also from the MIT/WHOI. He has over ten years experience with Sea Education Association programs.

Michelle Land, Director of the Environmental Consortium. Land is also program coordinator of the Pace Academy for the Environment and teaches at Pace University as adjunct professor in the undergraduate environmental studies program and graduate environmental science program. Her courses include environmental law & policy and the intersection of nature and culture. Land received her B.Sc. from the University of Guelph, Ontario and her J.D. in environmental law from Pace Law School. Prior to Land’s career at Pace, she was a wildlife biologist at the World Bird Sanctuary, with emphasis in public education.

Lisa Son, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Barnard College. Son conducts research that examines various approaches for effective long-term learning. The goal of her research has been to see how people’s meta-cognitive judgments during study help to guide study behavior, and to see if people are able to sacrifice immediate “comfort” in the short term for larger gains in the long term.

For further information about River Summer 2005, contact Tim Kenna at tkenna@ldeo.columbia.edu. For more information about the Environmental Consortium’s programs, contact Michelle Land at mland@pace.edu.