Mia Vergari '05 examines her Brassica rapa plants in Bio 220: Ecology, taught by Neal Williams, assistant professor of biology.
Students conducted experiments to explore different aspects of plant competition, taking into consideration a pilot study they completed
earlier in the semester and their readings of primary literature.

At Bryn Mawr, opportunities to study the environment abound. On any given day, students are measuring the level of nitrate in pond water, attending a lecture on urban farming, or using software to analyze grizzly bear populations.

Students who concentrate in environmental studies major in anthropology, biology, geology, or growth and structure of cities, taking pertinent introductory courses in each discipline. (Two additional tracks-humanities and policy-are being developed.) "Concentrators focus on environmental issues while gaining a strong background in a discipline, giving them experience and skills for careers or future academic work," says Maria Luisa Buse Crawford '60, chair of geology and director of environmental studies.

The study of the environment is interdisciplinary, involving interactions between inorganic, biologic and societal processes, not only in the present but throughout history and over geologic time as well. The field is dynamic and interlinked.

For concentrators, this becomes most evident during senior seminars. Concentrators take two seminars their senior year, one in the concentration and one in their major. This year the environmental studies senior seminar was taught by visiting assistant professor of geology Aviva Sussman.

"I think that everyone in the concentration really takes advantage of the senior seminar in environmental studies because it acts as a capstone course, bringing together all of the interdisciplinary courses we have been taking for the concentration," says Dhyana Quintanar '04. "It is a lot of work, since it is basically the students who are in charge of teaching the topic of their choice to their peers, but it is definitely rewarding."

Quintanar's seminar presentation concerned the effects of nitrogen accumulation in the environment, which is problematic for the atmosphere, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and human health. Because nitrogen sustains most of the globe's food and energy needs, she outlined the possible solutions and approaches for maximizing food and energy production while reducing the rate of environmental degradation due to nitrogen accumulation.

Reeve Basom, an anthropology major at Haverford, did her seminar presentation on environmental racism. "Race is the most significant factor in predicting the distribution of environmentally hazardous facilities and practices," Basom says. She illustrated how minority and low-income communities are disproportionately burdened by environmentally degratory practices such as toxic and hazardous waste dumping.

Coupling anthropology with environmental studies satisfied Basom's curiosity about the ways humans interact with and interpret the environment. The concentration helped her build an understanding of environmental issues based on several interdependent systems. "This holistic approach is largely where anthropology and environmental studies intersect for me," Basom says. "The senior seminar was dominated by biology majors this year, but our ability to learn from each other was uninhibited by the lopsided representation, and I think we all enjoyed the opportunity to work outside of the boundaries of our majors."

Independent research
Thanks to a $484,438 grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, environmental studies courses will be enhanced by laboratory and field components on water and soil quality, animal and plant ecology, mapping and topographic studies, and weather and climate monitoring.

In addition, Praxis courses and independent research, highly valued by graduate programs and employers, synthesize the interdisciplinary aspects of environmental studies while providing hands-on experience in a particular discipline. Under the supervision of Theodore Wong, assistant professor of biology, Quintanar studied the architectural development of plants in 3-D space by teaching herself how to use a digitizer called FREEPOINT 3D and a software program called Floradig. She created a model to capture plant morphology and branching variations, then tested the model by applying it to three different plant populations.

NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program allowed Amanda Jo Williams '04 to study Lyme disease at the Institute for Ecosystems Studies in New York City. "I spent the summer taking ticks off of chipmunks, looking at the disease and its ecological risks," Williams says. She learned how habitat fragmentation fosters populations of mice, chipmunks and deer-animals that support ticks and host Lyme bacteria. "Disease ecology in its broadest sense requires knowledge of ecology, geology, economics, and sociology, to name just a few," Williams says. "For example, other disease ecologists are looking at how global climate change is affecting the emergence of diseases like SARS, Ebola, Nipah, Hanta, Lyme, and West Nile."

For her Praxis III project, Clare Smiga '04 teaches classes, leads nature walks, and helps care for animals at the Main Line YMCA's Environmental Education Center. "I definitely appreciate my Praxis course because it allows me to create a class that encompasses the aspects of environmental science I am most interested in-education, awareness, and empowerment," Smiga says. She is putting together a curriculum that combines an appreciation for nature with an awareness of how humans affect the environment-"specifically the effects of urban sprawl, and what middle-schoolers in the suburbs can do to have a positive impact on their environment," she says. She applied to the Peace Corps and was nominated to teach secondary chemistry with an environmental science focus in Africa.


Sarah Lloyd '05 (left) and Lauren Kurtz '06 survey forest diversity and the associations of different tree species in the Saunders Woods Preserve, a 21-acre woodland and part of the Natural Lands Trust. With their classmates, they used the data to analyze the structure of the forest and also built their own mathematical models to predict the succession of the forest in future generations.

Many classes related to environmental studies challenge students in new ways. "Students in ecology are working to understand mathematical models of population growth and decline, and exploring the effect of environmental and demographic patterns, birth and death rates, variability, and so on," says Neal Williams, assistant professor of biology. "For example, students have done activities with software that is actually used by wildlife managers, studying populations of grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide. We could talk about endangered species in a very emotional way, but the idea is to get the students thinking and trained so that they can determine why, quantitatively, a species is endangered.

Green cities
Allison Hayes-Conroy '03, a growth and structure of cities major, used the environmental studies concentration to expand her interests in many pragmatic directions. "I focused on the culture of agriculture and the civic potential agriculture might have," she says, "especially in terms of influencing 'cultural politics' in a way that encourages environmental attentiveness."

Her independent research as an undergraduate on southern New Jersey's regional planning problems has resulted in a book, South Jersey Under the Stars, soon to be published by Fairleigh Dickenson University Press. Among other topics, the book discusses how farming is harmful to the natural ecology of the Pine Barrens and how festivals use local history and landscape to promote ecological awareness. (For more information about her research, see "A Shared Passion for Ideas" in the Spring 2003 issue of the Alumnae Bulletin.) Now at the University of Hawaii, Hayes-Conroy studies geography-specifically what she calls cultural-agricultural geography. She says the master's program requires an "applied, participatory, and reflexive methodology" similar to the approach she developed at Bryn Mawr. "My thesis will continue the ideas from my book as I organize and carry out a one-day community forum in South Jersey to talk about the legitimacy of its basic ideas," she says.

Last year, cities major Shannon Tyman '03 interned at Greensgrow, an urban farming project in Philadelphia. Tyman learned about the origins and goals of urban redevelopment and how they play out in an actual neighborhood. She also researched new plants for Greensgrow to produce. "Greensgrow educates people by providing local produce, providing food that tastes better, and being able to do it more cheaply because they're doing it themselves," Tyman says.

Others who combine environmental studies with the cities major have pursued issues ranging from the impact of new urban development to competitions over parks and recreational facilities in the Philadelphia area. Given the importance of architecture and landscape in the cities program, students also have explored "green architecture" principles that seek to balance design, sustainable energy, and the sensitive use of local sites and materials.

"Their post-graduate careers have included work with Longwood Gardens and global NGOs and formal training in architecture," says Gary McDonogh, professor and chair of the cities program. "What has been exciting about the environmental studies concentration in cities is that the students themselves expand dialogue within the major, with a visible impact on our curriculum and interests."

"In the labs," Williams adds, "students are applying conceptual information that they learn in a lecture, gathering data through observation or experiment, summarizing those data, and analyzing them to answer a particular question or identify a particular pattern. For most of them, it is a very new thing to be doing."

Crawford teaches a class on Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a software program that allows the user to meaningfully connect spatial information from different sources-maps or data files, for example. Nonprofits use GIS to identify geographic relationships, such as locations of critical ecosystems in relation to logging operation sites. After graduating, anthropology major and environmental studies concentrator Amy Karon '99 was a program manager for GreenInfo Network, making GIS available to under-funded nonprofits.

Water work
Rhoads Pond also exemplifies Bryn Mawr's interdisciplinary take on environmental studies. A storm water retention basin, Rhoads Pond won a $150,000 Growing Greener grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

"The pond is more than just water," explains Blythe Hoyle, lecturer and laboratory coordinator in geology. The College's collaboration with Lower Merion Township to control erosion, flooding, and pollution offers lessons in policy and management. Mill Creek, a field trip destination for some classes, takes drainage from the pond, thereby illuminating creek processes.

Most importantly, the pond serves as a small ecosystem teeming with prospective curricula. Biology students examine the biota growing in and around the pond and how they change over time. Geology students learn how the pond traps sediments and how incoming particulate matter affects the pond's management and evolution. Using an ion chromotagraph, students in chemistry classes analyze inorganic constituents such as chloride (from rock salt) and nitrate (from fertilizers) and their effects on the pond. Mathematics students study various aspects of water balance. (The purchase of the Dionex DX-600 was partially supported by a $30,000 grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.)

"It's a nice way to combine all of the sciences in one small location that is right in our own back yard," Hoyle says. "I think any student from any one of the aspects from the environmental studies program can come to the pond and find some niche that would be satisfying." Hoyle and Krynn Lukacs, senior lab lecturer in chemistry, co-teach Geo 302: Low-Temperature Geochemistry, in which Rhoads Pond is an integral teaching tool and illustrates chemical and nutrient management.

The pond has sparked the imagination of faculty and students alike. In an independent project, Rachel Wilson '04 learned a computer model, AQUATOX, downloadable from the EPA's website. AQUAOTOX determines the effects of chemical pollutants on plants, algae, fish, and other wildlife in lakes and streams. Wilson examined increasing nitrogen inputs and their effect on photosynthesizing organisms. "It was mostly an exercise in how to use the program, but provided some interesting feedback on what particular data needs to be collected from Rhoads Pond in order to have the model work more accurately," Wilson says.

Along with Sussman and Don Barber, assistant professor of geology, students in Geo 205: Sedimentary Materials and Environments acquired ground penetrating radar (GPR) data of Rhoads Pond by rigging an inflatable rubber boat with GPR equipment, a laptop and antennae. The students, working on a team project, were able to image the sedimentary layers in the pond as well as the pond's depth.

Sussman, who is teaching Geo 310: Introduction to Geophysics this semester, accompanied students to the annual regional meeting of the Geological Society of America in March 2004, where their poster discussed the historical, physical and chemical characteristics of the pond, specifically with respect to sedimentation rates and flood control techniques. JoAnn Gage '05 was the lead author on the abstract and was awarded a travel stipend to attend the meeting.

Rachel Wilson '04 (left) will pursue work in the field of coastal ecology. In summer 2002, her Research Experience for Undergraduates project at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey was part of the Coastal Conservation Research Program. With two other undergraduates, she observed how human disturbances affect the feeding behavior of Piping Plovers, an endangered shorebird in New Jersey (considered threatened federally). Amanda Jo Williams '04 (right) will work for a year before studying disease ecology at the graduate level. (Below): During Geo 310: Introduction to Geophysics, taught by visiting assistant professor of geology Aviva Sussman, Elaine Tong '04 and JoAnn Gage '05 (right) use a magnetometer to track the path of an underground drainage pipe that runs from Merion Avenue into Rhoads Pond.

The environmental studies speaker series is another important dimension of the concentration because it demonstrates the wide array of careers available to environmental studies concentrators. Organized in fall 2003 by Wong and co-sponsored by the Center for Science in Society, the series hosted talks on a variety of environmental professions throughout the semester. Speakers included an urban farmer, a coral-reef conservationist, a tropical biodiversity expert, a bird behavioral ecologist, and a geographer who studies how some of Philadelphia's newer immigrant communities harvest plants in public parks.

"The students were able to interact with the speakers in different ways," Wong says, "formally, in a traditional lecture-audience setting, and later, very informally over dinner. Especially with the non-academic speakers, the students were able to see how the intellectual work which they're focused on applies beyond academia."

Perhaps the concentration's biggest boon is its energetic professors. "They help guide you and help you figure out how to apply your interests in the professional world, beyond Bryn Mawr," Quintanar says.

For more information, see Bryn Mawr's online resource for environmental activities both on and off campus.



Living in synergy
Bryn Mawr students have an alternative to the traditional dorm experience: Batten House, an environmentally conscious intentional community. The house, donated to the College in 1959 by the family of Jane Batten '55, is located on the edge of campus next to Brecon Hall and accommodates 13 sophomores, juniors and seniors. They live as a cooperative, making decisions consensually and raising awareness in the community about the connections between animals, humans, and the earth.

In addition to sharing housekeeping and cooking duties, "Batteniks" buy organic food and patronize small, local businesses that sell supplies in bulk to cut down on waste. Compost from Batten House kitchen scraps is turned over to the Bryn Mawr Grounds Department for use on campus.

As part of their outreach, Batteniks have sponsored speakers and visiting artists. Their campus-wide efforts raised funds for Guatemalan youth soccer uniforms as part of an international peace campaign. And Batten House puts on the Fall Harvest Festival, an open-house for students, staff and faulty, featuring treats made from Batten House gardens.

"On top of all of our Bryn Mawr obligations, we manage to provide six vegan meals a week, most of which are open to the community, relatively inexpensively," says Heather Hopkins Davis '06. "We keep our house in order without outside help. But more important in my mind than anything we decide in our meetings is the relationships that we form in the process. When I go back to Batten at the end of the day, I say, 'I'm going home.' "

The residents of Batten House are chosen every year in the special interest housing draw. At least three members of each upper class must be represented, and no more than seven returning Batteniks are permitted.



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