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Students say ‘aloha’ to newest Field Program

Fourteen students this fall are studying topics as diverse as Earth sciences, biology, environmental sciences and cultural anthropology, marking the inaugural run of Stanford’s Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii.

The quarter-long program, funded by a donation from environmental philanthropist Julie Wrigley, the Earth sciences department and the Woods Institute for the Environment, was spearheaded by Peter Vitousek, a biology professor and a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Students in Wrigley's Field Program gather for a group photo.

Vitousek pushed for the establishment of a Hawaii program following the popularity of his freshman seminar on island ecology, which culminates in a week-long trip to Hawaii. He wanted to provide students interested in Earth systems the opportunity to gain valuable field experience.

“Field experience and field courses involve a type of education and learning that is difficult to get on campus,” Vitousek said. “Students will get a real chance to spend some time in the field, and there are unique opportunities when you’re in a place like Hawaii to bring together data and analyze a place from multiple perspectives.”

The Hawaii program was designed to be an interdisciplinary program. Participants must take three courses<\p>–<\p>Earth Sciences of the Hawaiian Islands, Ecology of the Hawaiian Islands and Heritage, Environment and Sovereignty in Hawaii<\p>–<\p>in addition to completing an independent research project. These courses are cross-listed in Earth sciences, biology and anthropology, respectively.

Course topics are covered through a series of nine modules, according to Noa Lincoln, the teaching assistant for the program and a Ph.D. student in the School of Earth Sciences. This module system allows a variety of professors to come in for anywhere from four to eight days and teach in their areas of expertise.

According to Lincoln, the module system allows students to build an interdisciplinary view of the historical interactions between people and the environment.

“The early modules are laying a foundation of the individual discipline, such as ecology and geology, and how those evolved over time,” Lincoln said. “The modules slowly get more interdisciplinary, where you then look at the interactions between those different disciplines.”

Participants spent the first two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where students studied volcanoes, terrestrial ecology and geophysical processes.

“During our first module, we followed two lava flows from the summit all the way down to the ocean and stopped at different sites and learned to do botanical surveys,” Lincoln said.

Students are now studying community ecology in Waimea, located in the north of the Big Island, and are staying at a house owned by the Hawaii Preparatory Academy. After six weeks on the Big Island, students will go to Kauai for two weeks to study the Grand Canyon of Waimea and the North Shore. After Kauai, students will return to the Big Island to complete the course.

Both Vitousek and Lincoln agree that Hawaii provides an ideal location for students to understand issues of sustainability.

“As an island, it’s simpler than a continent,” Vitousek said. “Thus, your ability to understand aspects of the natural and human world is significantly better. The interesting thing about island cultures is that they sustained in isolation. They had to figure out how to develop systems that could subsist. Students can evaluate and understand these processes and get a sense of what works and doesn’t work.”

Student participants in the program agree that they have already learned a tremendous amount through their field courses.

“It’s really experiential learning instead of conventional learning,” said David Geeter ’11. “We’ve learned so much that every day feels like multiple days.”

For most students, the most exciting part of the program has been the opportunity to experience first-hand the science they learned in classrooms at Stanford.

“We have this tradition now when we’re in the middle of the forest, and you can hear birds chirping, and you’re learning so much but it’s so different from sitting in a lecture,” said Angela Hayes ‘12. “We’ll look at each other, and someone will say, ‘Hey guys, we’re in class right now.’”

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