In order to graduate, all ACES undergraduates in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) must complete two NRES 285 field experience courses, which equip students with real-world knowledge through hands-on learning. The course offerings vary each semester; previous courses have included chainsaw training and safety and African natural resource and ecosystem management.
During spring 2013, the course was Mountain Ecosystem Management. The eight-week class was capped off with an eleven-day trip to Montana to visit the ecosystem under study. The 13 students, along with professors Mark David and Courtney Flint, traveled by train to Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS), a research station operated by the University of Montana.
“This field course is a great way for UIUC students to get a feel for an ecosystem very different from the Midwest. They were amazed by the purity of the water and how strongly people in that landscape value environmental quality as part of their well-being,” said Flint.
While in Montana, the group participated in a planning meeting of the local grassroots nonprofit, county planners, private contractors, and university scientists. They helped the FLBS research crew measure algal growth in the middle of the largest lake west of the Mississippi and spent a day searching for loons on McDonald Lake with the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (CCRLC). Another day they tracked wolves with the species expert from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Through classroom education and lakeside application, the students learned about fish populations, the formation and destruction of western gravel beaches, and wildlife management and cultural significance.
“From the moment we arrived, the trip was nothing less than a whirlwind of hands-on, on-site learning. We learned so much, applying the water quality tests taught by Dr. David and paying close attention to how the local people and culture play into management and protection, as Dr. Flint stressed. We also enjoyed evening canoe trips, morning hikes, and adventures through Glacier National Park,” said student Kurt Hansen.
The goal of all NRES 285 courses is for students to learn and practice scientific procedures and methods. There’s no question that the hands-on experience in Montana met the goal and beyond.