Entering Nature’s Classroom

Students in the Sedimentary Geology class (GEO 450) pose on the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon National park as part of their faculty-led spring break class trip.

Students in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences opted to go off the beaten path during the spring break. Trading in four walls for the vast expanses of nature, they enrolled in week-long trips to learn and serve the community. Students had an opportunity to study geology out West, dive into marine biology in nature’s tropical classroom, and provide service to a native community in need of assistance.

“The American Southwest in the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau has fabulous 100-percent outcrop exposures quite unlike anything within the geological experience of our students,” says CELS professor David Fastovsky, who led 10 geosciences seniors across Arizona and Utah to explore the Earth’s surface. “It’s a spectacular natural laboratory that we just can’t duplicate elsewhere.”

“Rhode Island has very limited rock exposures, not only in Earth history, but also because of extensive vegetation,” explains Dr. Fastovsky, who underscores the value of learning geology through hands-on experiences in these environments.  “So going out west and seeing those rocks, and thinking about the geological problems they pose as well as the insights that they provide, is an opportunity that all geosciences students – including those from Rhode Island – should have the opportunity to have.”

Twenty-five hundred miles from Colorado on the tropical island of Bermuda, CELS Associate Professor Chris Lane led nine undergraduates enrolled in a marine biodiversity class on a trip to explore the marine diversity and habitats that shape the island’s flora and fauna.

Undersea flora seen on dives during the Bermuda Marine Biodiversity (BIO 310) class trip.

Dalia Rajeh, a freshman Biology major, saw this trip as an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone and immerse herself in the ways of field-based data collection. The ability to collaborate with her peers and professors was a valuable part of her experiences on the island. “Putting all of our data together and coming to a conclusion was extremely rewarding”, says Rajeh. “It is a great way to learn how to collect data and use it to prove a hypothesis or research question.”

Some CELS students spent their spring break helping others. As a part of the URI Service Corps, students traveled across the country and around the globe performing acts of service to various communities. CELS junior and environmental science and management major Becky Gumbrewicz had the opportunity to travel to Flagstaff, Arizona to help Native Americans environmental rights, the right that all people have to enjoy their environment and the resources it includes.

Students in the URI Service Corps on their Alternative Spring Break trip to Flagstaff, Arizona.

“While there I met a little girl named Mariah, who reminded me of why I serve,” recalls Gumbrewicz, the CELS Resident Academic Mentor, CELS Ambassador, and a Coastal and Environmental Fellow. “She demonstrated the same characteristics I believe we need to have to establish hope for change, positivity, optimism, and spirit.”

Utilizing the knowledge she has gained from her academic experiences in CELS and serving the Navajo Nation in Arizona has helped Gumbrewicz understand the changes needed to help improve the quality of life for all people. “It inspired me to be more aware of the world we live in today and how I can adjust my actions to align with my values in order to have a more positive affect on others.”

Reflecting upon the value of studying and serving outside the classroom, CELS students demonstrate how these experiential trips enhance their academic and personal growth, while leaving lasting impressions that will stay with them throughout their careers.