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University of Cincinnati’s Center for Field Studies Flourishes with Summer Research Programs

$250K Duke Energy Grant supports developing new projects, building on existing ones.

Date: 5/19/2015 1:00:00 PM
By: Zack Hatfield
Phone: (513) 556-5087
Photos By: Provided

UC ingot  

Teachers learn about the ecosystem at the research center.

The University of Cincinnati’s Center for Field Studies (UCCFS), which is the McMicken College of Arts & Science’s advanced outdoor laboratory, netted major recognition and support for environmental research and education from Duke Energy last month. David Lentz, the facility’s executive director, and David Nash, professor of environmental studies, were awarded a $250,000 grant by Duke Energy to put toward groundbreaking research and education. 

The UCCFS is housed at the historic South Shaker Farm, approximately 20 miles from Uptown Campus. The farmhouse and surrounding grounds have been transformed into an innovative environment where technology meets nature, providing fertile ground for multidisciplinary research in environmental science, geology, biology, archaeology and other fields. 

The majority of the grant—a projected $140,000—will be used to create a Ground-Water Observatory along the Great Miami River aquifer. The observatory will measure the physical and chemical attributes of the water, allowing researchers to detect contamination early and also measure impacts of industry and agriculture on water quality. 

“When we think about water, we think about rivers and streams or lakes,” says David Lentz, who also serves as a professor of Biological Sciences. “But there’s actually a lot of water underground. And our understanding of how that water moves and what happens to that water and how it gets contaminated—we don’t know a lot about that.” 

Much of the remainder of the grant money will help fund the Interdisciplinary Field Experiences  program at the UCCFS, a graduate level five-week course in the summer that allows high school teachers to conduct research with UC scientists. “It’s a way for them to get hands-on experience doing meaningful biological research,” Lentz says. 

The program targets inner-city high school teachers at underserved public schools. Lentz acknowledges that many high school science teachers have only taken science education courses and not completed more specialized science coursework. The field experiences program not only offers a natural environment where they can conduct real research, it provides teachers with a scholarship and a stipend. 

At the UCCFS, teachers can learn how to survey the biomass of a forest by measuring trees’ carbon dioxide absorption, explore macroinvertebrates in local streams, study the effects of fossil fuels in the habitat or learn about green roofs as energy-efficient irrigation systems. 

Teachers in the Interdisciplinary Field Experiences program learn about science in a natural environment.

The Ground-Water Observatory will also offer lessons for visiting teachers. Along with UC scientists and students involved with the geology program, high-school teachers can gather and analyze observatory data and adapt it to use in their own classrooms.

By working with professionals in the field, high school teachers who may have never taken a college-level science course will be able to bring real-world experience to their students. Plus, the UCCFS offers a companion course that helps teachers develop lesson plans to go along with new learning activities.

“It isn’t often that teachers get the chance to learn by actually doing, and I was happy to get to spend the summer sharing ideas, interests and insights with other math and science teachers,” says DeAnn O’Toole, a fourth-grade teacher at Pattison Elementary School in Milford, Ohio, who participated in Interdisciplinary Field Experiences last summer. 

She learned about forest ecosystems and traveled to the Civic Garden Center to experiment with green roof runoff. O’Toole applied her experiences at UC when she developed an archaeological dig on her school grounds for her students.

“My students loved measuring and staking the site, digging 10 cm levels, taking soil descriptions using Munsell Color Charts and collecting artifacts,” O’Toole says. “It became an invaluable experience and an integral part of their unit on fossils and Ohio’s First People.” 

The UCCFS is a collaboration between UC and Great Parks of Hamilton County, a subdivision that strives to preserve natural resources and foster outdoor recreation and education to improve the quality of life. In 2008, UC signed a lease with the organization for 17.5 acres of land in the Little Miami Forest, a pastoral setting with ample woodland and streams. Lentz says the partnership laid the groundwork for the observatory at the Great Miami. 

UCCFS offers a combination of introductory courses for the general public on a non-credit basis as well as higher-level, field-based experiences over the summer. 

“All the research that’s been done shows that hands-on activity is where people really learn,” Lentz says. “Actually doing something is far more stimulating to the mind than just reading about something. Field stations offer research and educational opportunities that just aren’t available on the main campus. They’re valuable tools.”

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