Ross May, '14, and Kristiana Haehnle, '14, spent several months in fall 2013 wading and canoeing rivers and streams in east central Indiana, collecting and analyzing sediment to better inform the public about how humans are affected by the quality of water that flows through their communities.
"We want everyone to know that geology happens," says Haehnle, geology major. "Over
the past few months, we’ve gone down to Buck Creek and watched the erosion of
the creek bank and witnessed how that impacts folks downstream as sediment
clogs up the water."
They and about two dozen students from journalism, biology, natural resources,
and geology participated in
an immersive learning class under
the direction of Lee
Florea, a geology professor, and
Adam Kuban, journalism professor.
"The overarching objective of
this immersive endeavor is public understanding of science," Kuban says. "We
want area residents to understand how water connects us."
Working on behalf of community
partners FlatLand Resources and the Delaware County Soil
and Water Conservation District, students collected water samples
along Buck Creek and two waterways it feeds into. Then they analyzed the
samples in the Department of Geology labs, providing data for multimedia
Students created an
interactive website that includes text, graphics, video, audio,
and ample pictures to tell the story at each confluence site: the origin of
Buck Creek, where Buck Creek merges with the White River in Yorktown, where the
two forks of the White River merge, where the White River connects with the
Wabash River, and approximately where the Wabash River intersects the Ohio
River. In addition, students wrote a policy recommendation for best
agricultural practices along Buck Creek to improve water quality.
Better Understanding of Science
As a journalism graphics major, May says he
never really appreciated scientific concepts until he sat down with his
counterparts from the university’s College of Sciences and Humanities.
learn science by reading chapters out of a book, but I learned a great deal by
actually going out to the stream and then taking water back to the lab, working
side by side with our science majors," he says. "They have helped me learn so
much about geology and science. I never expected to be working with them. The
main reason I took the class is that it wasn’t in a traditional setting. By
going out in the field, I learned so much—sparking my interest in the field."
result of this interaction, May developed a 30-second information graphic movie
to showcase the research.
Because the water flows down from
Delaware County through the White and Wabash Rivers and into the Mississippi, Kuban
believes the public should better understand what happens in one part of the
country affects those living in other areas.
"We all live downstream from
someone," Kuban says. "The findings of our results, along with the territorial
restoration of Buck Creek at its confluence with the White River, provides the
stories for student-generated multimedia products."
While the students worked along area waterways and in labs for several months, it took the Florea and Kuban nearly two years to move the project from the idea stage into a for-credit course.
"The process has certainly taught both of us a great deal about working across disciplinary boundaries and with students of various backgrounds and preparation," Florea says. "Not that the concept is foreign to either of us. We each come from a hybrid background that blends science with public policy. Adam has the perspective of climate, meteorology, and pedagogy, while I have background in physics, quantitative literacy, and environmental policy. Simply put, we make a good team."
Florea believes that success of an immersive
learning course occurs when the students are "put in the driver's seat," and
the faculty member becomes their mentor, champion, and cheerleader all rolled
"Over my 20 years of teaching experience in
secondary, university, and governmental settings, I have grown accustomed to
wide ranging interests and backgrounds," he says. "Yet some methods straddle
all settings. One is dedication. Another is enthusiasm. Adam and I both share
each, and I think many students respond positively to and try to mimic those
"Another viewpoint can be summarized by the
sage advice offered by one of my mentors a few years back. He told me that a faculty
member is like a small business where their name is the brand, the students are
the employees, and the university is the client."