Practicing Engaged Scholarship

Geography Offers Two Service-Learning Courses this Fall

Service-learning experiences are directly related to curricular goals, with course assignments tied to the service experiences. These experiences are based on the principle that students need opportunities to conduct independent or team research, and to learn more about the “real world” through interaction with individuals and organizations in public, nonprofit, and/or private sectors. More broadly, service-learning fosters better "engaged scholarship" among both students and faculty, allowing them to connect theory and practice while serving local needs. The Geography Department is offering two service-learning courses this fall, one in human geography and one in physical geography.

Professor and Chairperson Meghan Cope is teaching “Geographies of Youth” (GEOG195), which starts from the position that children and teens are in many ways subjected to living in an "adultist" world, one in which they are routinely squeezed out of some places and allocated other places as "their own." This happens at all scales, from the social-spatial arrangement of households to neighborhoods, towns/cities, and states. Though young people have little formal power over space (voting, decision-making, etc.), and often hold few means to act upon space or even move across it independently, they are significant social actors and do have enormous influence on spatial arrangements, place-making, and the meanings and experiences of space and places. The 19 students in this class will each be involved in one of three projects: 1) working with middle-school children in Williston, VT to assess their access and use of "natural" spaces; 2) working with Local Motion (a bike and pedestrian advocacy group) in Burlington to evaluate the "walkability" of areas surrounding local schools; or 3) designing a plan for Burlington to become a "youth-friendly city" by interviewing local officials and identifying goals based on the Child-Friendly Cities program of the United Nations. By putting into practice some of the objectives identified by the literature on critical youth geographies, these students will bridge theory and the empirical world, gain important skills in both social research and community partnerships, and will provide useful information for local communities.

Assistant Professor Shelly Rayback is teaching “Dendrochronology” (GEOG244), the study of tree rings and what tree rings can tell us about the past. This course introduces students to the principles and theory, as well as field and lab techniques used by dendrochronologists to unravel the mysteries contained within tree rings. Students learn the basic principles of how trees grow, function and interact with their environment, as well as the scientific basis, techniques and applications of dendrochronological research. Students also investigate how tree rings are used to reconstruct and analyze, 1) the occurrence of fires or insect outbreaks, 2) changes in forest structure, composition and function, 3) changes in past climate or severe weather events, 4) the dates of geomorphic processes and events, and 5) the history of past civilizations. The 15 students in this course will complete a final service-learning project in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy of Vermont. The students will be investigating the LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area in Shelburne, Vermont, a unique floodplain forest dominated by silver maple and green ash trees. Using field and laboratory skills learned in the course, as well as remote sensing, GIS, and historical analysis techniques, students will reconstruct the ecological history of the floodplain forest over time, and consider the impacts of humans and climate change on the health of this site. The information generated by the students in this course for their final project will be used by The Nature Conservancy of Vermont for educational and management purposes. By linking course goals and content with the service-learning project, students will gain valuable experience putting theory into practice, and our community-partner will benefit by obtaining valuable information about a site under their protection and management.