Thinking Outside the Classroom

Faculty-Led Trips Transform Spring Break into Learning Adventures
Students in the Introduction to Sedimentary Geology class (GEO 450) pose in Zion National Park as part of their faculty-led spring break class trip.

Thirty students from URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) took a non-traditional vacation from the classroom this spring break. They enrolled in faculty-led week-long trips, which brought them across the hemisphere to study geology and biology and perform research in incomparable locations. For the students and faculty involved, the travel provided unique opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.

“There is no substitute for showing geosciences majors the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Petrified Forest National Park, no way that they could gain that experience without actually going there and seeing the real deal for themselves,” insists CELS Professor David Fastovsky, who led seventeen students on a geology expedition through Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico in his Introduction to Sedimentary Geology class. Known as the Colorado Plateau, the area is a geologic treasure trove including fossils, exposed sedimentary layers, and petrified wood, according to Fastovsky.

Post-dive smiles from the Research Diving Class (AFS 433) in Bonaire

“The experience brought to life the concepts we learned in the classroom and allowed us to apply our knowledge to the field,” recalls Callie Tominsky, a geology and geological oceanography major who gained insights into ancient Earth environments by observing sedimentary structures with her fellow classmates.

“You can’t learn geology from a text, or from a video, any more than you can learn to swim without water,” Fastovsky notes of the value of traveling to locations specific to student’s area of study.

Four students participated in the Bermuda Marine Diversity class (BIO 210X) this Spring Break.

Two more faculty-led trips brought students to sub-tropical islands to study biology and master scuba diving skills. Ten students in Research Diving Methods  led by Anya Hanson, URI’s Diving Safety Officer, completed training dives to become certified as underwater researchers on the Caribbean island of Bonaire, a premier scuba diving location. In Bermuda, an island renowned as a hotbed of biodiversity, four students in CELS Associate Professor Chris Lane’s Bermuda Marine Diversity class performed research in partnership with the world-class Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences (BIOS).

Students also traveled to Indonesia with Marine Affairs Assistant Professor Amelia Moore on a research expedition and trekked through Guatemala on an interdisciplinary water resources survey with Associate Professor Vinka Craver.

Reflecting on the educational value of the spring break trips, Professor Fastovsky concludes, “we owe such experiences to our students; to make their training the best and the most ‘real’ that we can provide.”