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New undergraduate course


UC Davis undergraduates had an opportunity to learn firsthand about the impacts of rapid environmental change on California landscapes and organisms thanks to a course conceived and developed by two Biological Invasions IGERT trainees. The course, Californian Biodiversity and Rapid Environmental Change, was taught by ecology graduate students Matthew Hufford and Clare Aslan in March-June 2009. It consisted of two complementary parts: a week-long, spring break field course in which students assisted with research on response to rapid environmental change; and a spring quarter, lecture course that explored the science and future trajectory of rapid environmental change with emphasis on Californian species.

The course was offered in collaboration with other graduate students in ecology at UC Davis and with Dr. Robert Klinger, a US Geological Service staff member and REACH IGERT non-faculty trainer, who directed the spring break projects in the Eastern Sierra Nevada in California.

Address Goals

The course provided undergraduate students with an interdisciplinary exposure to the consequences of rapid environmental change for ecosystems in California. Further, these changes, which include climate change, invasive species, and land use, have the potential to impact the public through policy decisions made to ameliorate environmental impact.

Students who participated in the spring break field course had an opportunity to participate in hands-on research. One student remarked about the value of this experience, “We often hear only the results of scientific research. Here we were able to gain knowledge of the process.” Another student commented, “It was so nice to see a professional ecologist working. It helped me realize how ecology is applied.”

Four of the undergraduates who took the course are pursuing summer 2009 positions or internships with government agencies to do research in support of enacting federal environmental policies.

The IGERT students who designed and taught the course are exploring avenues for regularizing its offering. Undergraduate participants were enthusiastic about this prospect: “Figure out how to keep this class going in the future!” Another added, “I was finally able to see and apply what I’ve been learning…This was the best experience of my life!”

Dr. Robert Klinger, the USGS staff member who supervised the student research, commented, “The spring break class was an enormous success. The students learned a lot and were a great help in the field. They had a sincere interest in being involved, asked excellent questions, and were incredibly enthusiastic. I would love to see funding for this course to continue, with the addition of paid summer research positions at the USGS lab.”

Beyond enriching undergraduate learning, the graduate students who developed and taught the course have benefited tremendously from the experience. One remarked, "[We] have been pleasantly surprised at what a positive and instructive experience offering this course has been. We have learned more in having to teach concepts of invasive species and rapid environmental change than we could ever have learned by taking a course, no matter how well taught. We have also been given a significant confidence boost in our abilities to develop and teach a course when we one day (hopefully!) become faculty members. "