January 21, 2018
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COA Receives Grant for Field-Based Ecology Program

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Students begin preliminary explorations of Northeast Creek Watershed from College of the Atlantic's land, The Protectorate.

BAR HARBOR, ME—College of the Atlantic is pleased to announce a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to aid the college in transforming how it teaches field-based ecology. The grant, for $146,032, will enable students to conduct hands-on, interdisciplinary research on an entire watershed system—from source to mouth. The Davis Educational Foundation was established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.

With help from the grant, COA is developing five intermediate courses focused exclusively on the largest watershed on Mount Desert Island, the 25-mile span of Northeast Creek. The courses are organized around long-term, multidisciplinary field research conducted by students under faculty direction. This research will be compiled and integrated into a geographic information system (GIS) database. The database, and its annual updates, will enable students to study relationships among complex, dynamic, environmental variables across space and time. Funding for creation of the database and for acquisition of the necessary durable field equipment to support this new educational approach also comes from the grant.

Says COA President Darron Collins, “COA has since its inception embraced a Deweyan, hands-on approach to learning. But this work—integrating a wide swath of ecological perspectives from faculty and applied to a local, entire watershed—breaks new ground. We are grateful to the Davis Educational Fund for helping us stretch to this new level.”

The project engages COA faculty in five separate fields: John Anderson, ecology and natural history; Sarah Hall, geology and earth sciences; Don Cass, chemistry; Nishanta Rajakaruna, botany; and Gordon Longsworth, director of COA’s GIS laboratory. Under their guidance, students will gather and analyze real-world data, increasing their ability to frame appropriate questions, form testable hypotheses, and design feasible research projects. The GIS database, along with the results of student research, will help stewards manage the watershed. This project became possible following the recent gifts to COA of two separate land parcels on Northeast Creek, The Protectorate, given to the college by Tom Cox, and The Peggy Rockefeller Farms, a gift of David Rockefeller.

The project’s design is based on more than a decade of student field work at COA’s 12-acre offshore Great Duck Island research station, where COA students have conducted summer-long ecological research, presenting results at professional meetings. Some 60 percent of these students have subsequently obtained either masters or doctoral degrees in the life sciences—a rate considerably above the national science undergraduate average.

In addition to the Davis Educational Foundation, the project is made possible by longtime collaborators, Acadia National Park, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and Maine Audubon. The US Geologic Survey is providing access to previous watershed data and its existing hydrologic measurement station in Northeast Creek. The first classes based on this program will begin in the fall of 2013. For more on the program, contact the college at 207-288-5015 or visit www.coa.edu.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world.