Florida Adventures with Native Bees!

14 Apr

I am a student Fellow in the Kahn Institute of Liberal Arts yearlong project “The Power of Disappearance”.  There are 15 faculty and 4 student Fellows in my group and we are all studying vastly different topics that revolve around the single word “disappearance”.  My honeybee passion has been ongoing for a few years now, and for this Kahn project I decided to push my boundaries and study disappearances within native bee species. I went into the project knowing I wanted to make a film, because making a film is much more fun than writing a paper or creating a powerpoint, both for me and the viewer.  Plus, I saw this as an issue that could inspire action, and films often have the power to do that.  The film Queen of the Sun is what initially got me into studying bees, and I wanted to pay homage to that.

Over Spring Break I traveled to Gainesville, Florida to interview researchers in the native bee biology lab at the University of Florida.  I had never been to Florida! Cory Stanley-Stahr, a post-doc in the bee lab, is an incredibly kind and knowledgeable person and was the person who I organized the trip with.  She picked me up from the airport and helped me set up interviews with people in the bee lab and community.

I filmed Cory explaining what native bee hotels are, and how people can help native bee populations by building bee hotels and providing more nesting spaces for these bees.  I also interviewed two of Cory’s lab technicians, including Mary, who dissected a frozen bumblebee hive to show me its components (have you ever seen the inside of a bumblebee nest?).  My aim is to create a film that educates people about bees (other than honeybees), explains why native bees matter, and addresses simple ways people can help native bee populations.

Screen shot 2015-04-08 at 10.38.06 PM
The inside of a bumblebee nest- a still shot from my film.

You can read more stories and see pictures from my adventure at thesecret-lifeofbees.blogspot.com.  Also please come to my Collaborations presentation where I will be debuting my film on campus: Saturday April 18th at 10:45am in Seelye 106.

-Haley Crockett is graduating this May and is an American Studies major and proud Sustainable Food concentrator at Smith.

Spotlight: Amelia Burke, ’15

11 Mar

Meet Amelia: Amelia developed a well-established interest in Middle Eastern studies and sustainable agriculture in the year before she arrived at Smith. During her gap year, she worked in the West Bank, writing for a Palestinian news site, went WWOOFing in Italy and hiked a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She arrived at Smith ready to focus on environmental sustainability and land revitalization through sustainable agriculture. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in Middle Eastern studies, a minor in environmental science and policy, and a concentration in sustainable food.


During her first two years at Smith, she worked on research projects relating to climate refugees and abuses of freedom in Northern Africa. By her junior year, she decided to take another year off to engage in foreign sustainability issues in agriculture. Amelia had plans to return to the West Bank for an internship at a women’s olive oil cooperative, but upon being denied entry at the border, she was forced to improvise the following year’s plans.

Working her way across continents, she lived in Jordan, worked on a dairy farm in Turkey, a horse farm in Bulgaria, and a kiwi farm in Italy. Her travels then turned south, where she worked on permaculture at an Eco lodge in Egypt and then headed to Zimbabwe for an internship at the Africa Centre for Holistic Management. There she focused on improving degraded soil through proper cattle management. She next headed up to Morocco with plans to use Smith’s Praxis scholarship. Up in the Moroccan highlands, she worked at the High Atlas Foundation, engaged with rural development strategies through fruit and nut tree cultivation and production. In her last year at Smith (oh yes, she accelerated a year) she applied for a Fulbright and is now a finalist for goat and sheep management systems on rates of pasture regrowth in the Middle Atlas.


When asked how Smith has contributed to her academic goals she responded: “there is no defined outcome [for what you get out of an academic institution].” As we can see, Amelia patchworked her own academic trajectory through Smith and beyond.

Thanks Amelia for sharing your unique navigation through Smith and good luck with all your future endeavors!

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Green Team’s Third Annual Climate Justice Open Mic

27 Feb

The stark white bar was laden heavily with cheese, cookies, crackers and tea cups. Heavy ochre curtains were tugged across the entrance way to the dim room, crowded with plastic chairs circled around a small, brightly lit stage.

Last night, I attended Green Team’s annual Climate Justice open mic. The atmosphere was warm despite the excited jitters that pulsed through the crowd like electricity. Green Team’s president, Siiri Bigalke, opened up the night with a moving story about coming to understand environmental injustices during her time abroad.

Another student read a chilling anecdote about her first time visiting receding glaciers. One sophomore, who had dropped by spur of the moment, recalled the various forms of pollution she saw affecting the environment and local residents during her 6 month stay in China. I read a poem about the constricting, overwhelming nature of the climate injustice conversation, or lack thereof.

As attendees became more comfortable, the pieces and stories being shared began to foster stimulating conversations. Students were discovering injustices within the injustices being spoken about; they were learning, listening, and opening their minds as peers braved the bright stage lights.

Perhaps we can look to this event and others like it in searching for ways to open up conversations about environmental (in)justices.


Footsteps reverberating, exponentially.

Around this hallowed space

curving walls

and dripping ceilings, concrete

pressing and stretching

and acres of black and white tiles.

Drowning in uniformity

echoes of disparate voices

I, too, call out.


Deeper down, down we slide

grit, grime wearing as we accelerate; a

perverse progression

and yet there’s a way to

devour, hopelessly

and it cranes our necks to look back at all.

Scraping at the only dust that remains

that would give our floundering feet traction

the void calls out.


Along the way, bulbs in dusty prisms

gleam dull and cruel; like

hoarded luxury

and insatiably hungry eyes, all framing an

unfathomable maw

and blinding us against the unknown.

The glow is warming inside these walls

the night never comes, but however stifled

we call out.


Billions of eyes focusing

forward through the chaos, reflecting

speckled trees

and cacophonous Springs

righteous respiration

and rusting, silent chains.

Voices presently choked, almost muted

a technological compromise and no one need leave

but they call out.


Beaten bodies building

soils sown with poisons

seas roiling; a pot over flame

and yet we march

walls contracting

and we grow restless.

These tunnels were not built to burst

but the breath of the Earth beyond is rallying

the climate is calling.


-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

The Final Day- Sharing the Lessons

19 Jan

Okay, you’ve all learned about what a carbon footprint is; you can see your footprints in the snow…who made these prints?”
“It’s a BEAR!”
“No, it’s a mongoose!”

2015-01-16 12.28.14
The crowd of rowdy sixth graders under our supervision exploded into peals of laughter that rang about the young woods. We were attempting to identify animal tracks, keeping in line with the footprint theme of our lesson plans. Another dozen students were taking their turns exploring the Bechtel Environmental classroom; the composting toilets were hard to tear them away from.

This past week, 16 Smithies have been braving sub zero temperatures up at the MacLeish Field Station in Whately, Massachusetts for the Interterm course, Interpreting the New England Landscape. We trooped through ice encrusted snow each day, learning the trails, about the history of the property, the engineering of the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, and winter ecology.

Spending the day sharing this information with the campus school sixth graders really established a sense of community and connection with the landscape that had been building all week.

-Lily Carlise-Reske, ’17


Prior to Monday, the last time I had set foot onto the MacLeish Field Station grounds I was a nervous first-year with a poorly packed backpack preparing to spend my first night of college sleeping in a tent with strangers. The Bechtel Environmental Classroom was nothing more than a concrete foundation. It’s amazing how much changes in three years time.

2015-01-16 11.25.13

Our class this week was made special by the breathtaking view from our meeting table in the Classroom, the company and camaraderie we shared as a class, and the learning that was experienced both firsthand and witnessed with our 6th graders this morning. The process of walking through the crunchy woods identifying tracks, trees, sounds, smells and tastes with the intent of sharing our knowledge created an incredible sense of responsibility that motivated my own learning throughout the week.

2015-01-16 12.00.34

My favorite moment of the week took place on Thursday morning in the middle of the frozen vernal pool. While chiseling through two inches of ice under the enthusiastic guidance of Paul Wetzel, I heard and felt a chilling CRACK that reverberated directly below me to the edges of the pool. My heart stopped and a shiver went down my spine. Everyone around me jumped. Our collective instinctual reactions were a startling reminder of how wild we are underneath it all.

-Anne Ames, ’15


The only other time I have ever been to MacLeish was second semester my first year, for an environmental perspectives class.  I remember first walking into the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and immediately being struck by the beauty of the space with its natural lighting seeping through the 3 sets of windows and the amazing vista in front of the main classroom table. I’ve always been aware of the necessity and amazing benefits of being in such a setting, but having the unique experience to be in such an environment in an integrated academic setting was truly inspirational.

Slightly contrary to this, was my experience at MacLeish this week.  Although this class mimicked the experience of taking part in an academic class in the same setting, with the same natural light and aesthetic beauty I remember from last time, my experience was a deeper one.  Because this class was based around building a working knowledge of the field station and classroom, and gaining a working knowledge of the space, I was able to enjoy being in a space of the classroom I could now interpret in a language appropriate for the living building, as well as better understand why the space was so beautiful to me.

2015-01-16 11.12.53

During this week at the classroom we learned about the ‘7 petals’, or ways in which the classroom incorporates aspects of sustainable and ethical standards of living into the building, construction and use of the living building as a whole. These standards, overseen by the International Living Future Institute, surprisingly and incredibly have only been met by five buildings in the world, of which Smith is the most recently certified. While inside the classroom after our morning hikes or other outside activities, seeing the way these ‘petals’ were used in the environment of the classroom, was an amazing experience.  One of my favorite times of day throughout the week was simply having lunch or spending transitional times inside the main room of the classroom.  It wonderful to essentially be in a space created to enjoy these simple and necessary pleasures of existing in an environment in which being in the moment helps one better connect to their natural surroundings in a way that wakes the imagination like no other.  It’s amazing what natural beauty can do!

-Blythe Coleman-Mumford, ’17

Interpreting- Day 4

16 Jan

On Thursday, we spent the morning learning and exploring with the Field Station’s Environmental Research Coordinator, Paul Wetzel.  As we ventured into the woods, he pulled out various thermometers and showed us how the blanket of snow works as an insulator, thus enabling small animals like mice and voles to travel under the snow because it is warmer than above the snow. Plants and animals that have adapted to our Northern climate depend on this temperature differential. As a result, winters without snow are much harder for grasses, for example, than those with plenty of snowfall. Next, we ventured further into the woods and spotted some deer tracks.  As we followed them deeper into the forest along the Porcupine Trail, we found numerous other tracks and used tracking books and Paul’s expertise to determine that squirrels, rabbits, deer, and foxes, had all been through that area.  We even found some deer scat, which Paul excitedly showed us came in piles of small, brown pellets that are green on the inside.

IMG_6616newA student in the class checking the temperature in the air to compare to the temperature in and under the snow.

There were many different types of animal tracks in the snow, the class identified this one as belonging to a deer.

Annie Ames, ’15 cracking a layer of ice at the vernal pool.

The temperature under the layer of ice at the vernal pool was around 40°F.
Even though the weather above the ice might be below freezing, this temperature differential allows fish and other animals to survive the winter under the ice.

As we walked through the woods, Paul also taught us quick and easy characteristics useful in the identification of different tree species. For example, white birch has peeling, white bark and alternating branching and the dogwood lives in damp environments and has opposite branching, where the branches sprout directly across from each other. Besides the conifers, the beech trees are the only trees around the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station that retain their leaves into the winter. Paul presented both tree and track identification as intuitive problem solving processes that each of us could use in the future. Before we ventured too far into the woods, we were offered sticks of black birch and told to chew on them. Though hesitant at first, I willingly put the stick in my mouth. It tasted surprisingly good, like some combination of maple syrup and mint.

Laura Krok-Horton, ’17 and Reid Bertone-Johnson sample the black birch branches.

– Julia Comeau, ’17
– Anuujin Elbegdori, ’15
– Anna George, ’17
-Pam Matcho, ’17

Interpreting- Reflections on Day 3

16 Jan
Blindfolds and icy trails are a great way to build trust, and it definitely established some new bonds at the Field Station. After separating into four groups of four, one person lead their three blindfolded group mates through the snowy trails to the best of their abilities. Using only our voices and a rope to keep the group together, we all struggled to keep our peers from sliding down hills of ice and walking into trees. Throughout this activity we learned that most (but not all!) of us can direct each other quite well, and that it involves a lot of laughter and more than a few startled exclamations of “oh no!” Starting off the morning by stumbling around in the snow really allowed us to tune in to our senses, and helped to strengthen the class’s sense of community in a fun and engaged manner.
-Liz Nagy, ‘18
In the afternoon, we started brainstorming for when the 6th graders arrive on Friday. The group divided into two groups based on what they wanted to focus on: the Homestead in the woods, with activities to and from on the trails, and the Station. At the MacLeish Field Station, kids can learn about the Living Building Challenge and do actives including looking at the composting toilets, Weather Grams, and reflecting on what they learned with us. We can’t wait to have the 6th graders come on Friday!
-Laura Krok-Horton
As a reflection exercise, the class all took 10 minutes today between activities to just go outside, spread out in all directions, and experience being out in the woods alone. One option was to create a sound map, using your location as the center of a radius and visually recording the sounds around us based on distance. It was a useful exercise to simply appreciate the opportunity we have to enjoy a place like the field station, which is a privilege many people don’t get. It also allowed me to understand even more what we had learned the previous day in class–that this area we may perceive as a wilderness is not fact so far removed. You can hear the hum of cars, the revving of a motor, and even the crunch of the rest of the class’ feet in the snow. However, as someone who grew up in a city, I also enjoyed hearing a relative silence; the trees were quiet, the birds were distant, and the loudest sound around me was the rustling of my coat. My own contribution to the sounds around me is not something I often think about, and something I am eager to see the 6th graders think about.
– Catherine Campbell-Orrock

Interpreting – Reflections on Day 2

14 Jan

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is fairly widely known throughout both the Smith Community and the greater population. Ford Hall, opened in 2010, was Smith’s first LEED Gold certified building. After our discussions today I learned a lot more about what exactly this means. In Smith’s case ​ LEED Certification led to water recycling mechanisms, green roofs, and computer monitored air and light systems. Through today’s discussions about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station I began to understand how LEED certification, while wonderful, is also limited.  We can do much better. The Living Building Challenge, set forth by the International Living Futures Institute, incorporates seven petals that promote change in public policies ​and ​change in industry that will encourage more sustainable architecture in the future.​

2015-01-13 14.20.50

One of the things that was the most mind-boggling to me was the requirement ​to exclude thirteen chemicals on the “red” list from the building.  That required generating a material ingredients list for every component that is needed for the building, somewhat like an ingredients list for a cereal. We look forward to teaching the 6th Graders about the Bechtel Classroom and the Field Station on Friday!

-April Birnie, ’15

2015-01-13 13.36.29

After lunch and a quick sledding break, Maggie Lind, director of education at the Smith College Museum of Art, came to the Field Station to discuss Visual Thinking Strategies with us. She began her presentation by asking us to look outside the classroom’s large picture window and describe what we noticed in the landscape. After each observation, Maggie reflected what we said, helping build the conversation. She never interjected with any specific facts or tried to lead us to a “correct” answer; rather, she allowed us to draw our conclusions based on what we saw. After that exercise, she explained that this was a facilitation technique called Visual Thinking Strategies, which allows the viewer to interpret the landscape without feeling pushed to notice or focus on any specific thing, but rather what interests them the most. Maggie also introduced us to the ideas of Freeman Tilden, who worked for the National Park Service in the 1950s and first brought the idea of landscape interpretation to the forefront. It was great to have Maggie come and discuss this method of presenting and acquiring knowledge about the field station, and left us thinking about how we could use Visual Thinking Strategies to teach the Campus School sixth graders who will be joining us on Friday.

-Catherine Bradley, ’17

After Maggie Lind (from the Smith College Museum of Art) taught us about Visual Thinking Strategies, we tested our newly acquired knowledge by going outside and finding our own artifacts for our group members to “interpret” and to apply the strategies. People chose a wide variety of artifacts ranging from gathering a cup of snow to finding a piece of bark, to taking a photograph of an artifact too big to bring indoors.


Once we each found (or photographed) our artifact, each person presented theirs to a small group and used the strategies we’d learned to allow their fellow group members to interpret the object in their own way. We went into this activity knowing that when it comes to interpretation, everything is valid and therefore many viewpoints were voiced which enriched the experience for everyone.

-Maia Erslev, ’18

Learning to Interpret the Landscape

13 Jan

Today was the first day of our class, of Exploring the New England Landscape, where we learn details about and history of the MacLeish Field Station and Western Massachusetts.

headed out

For the first half of our session Professor Jesse Bellemare led us on a tour of the field station. During our trek he would occasionally stop to tell us a historical or ecological tidbit, pointing out a physical artifact or other object of significance. For example, humans have lived in the valley and had an impact on what is now Field Station land for approximately 13,000 years. Native Americans originally resided on the land; years later, Europeans traded with them to obtain ownership and settled there. Geologic digs in the area have turned up arrows of various lengths. The settlers’ influence on the land can still be seen by the stone walls that they built to keep their sheep from wandering. It was truly amazing to see evidence of this and other centuries old history all throughout MacLeish.

wall and snow  2015-01-12 10.52.58

After spending hours learning outside, we spent most of the latter half of our class session indoors. We began by creating our own journals, even down to the pages and binding.

2015-01-12 14.30.36  journal

 These journals will be used for taking notes and writing reflections throughout the duration of this course. They proved extremely helpful when we ventured back outside to compose a short note about our surroundings. We then calligraphed these notes onto strips of paper, creating weathergrams, and hung them along the trail and on the bridge leading to the Bechtel Classroom. On Friday, we will be able to check and see what nature wrote back!

-Michele Handy, ’15 and Jessica Morgan, ’17

Environmental Justice Radio

15 Dec

I created this podcast, Environmental Justice Radio, as an extra credit project for Environmental Integration I: Environmental Perspectives.


As I study environmental issues, ranging from the disruption of biogeochemical cycles to the economic and social costs of climate change, I find myself continuously returning to the interconnectedness of environmental and societal health. This concept reveals the disproportionate impacts of climate change on groups of people, often coinciding with racism, classism, sexism, and many other forms of oppression.

Since coming to Smith, the themes of my academic work have inspired me to independently research environmental justice in the United States. Attending the People’s Climate March in New York and joining the Divest Smith College network have been influential in my thinking about the intersectionality of social and environmental issues.

I have come to realize that all of the issues I previously felt passionate about are strung together by a not-so-thin thread.

This podcast is a small example of how climate change is not a problem affecting only distant “Others.” The impacts fall on people in our own country, and we need to raise their voices up. To me, one of the most important steps to sparking change is reworking the ways in which we communicate environmental issues.

– Callie Sieh, ’18J transferred to Smith this fall. She studies Environmental Science and Policy, and in her free time hosts a radio show on WOZQ, is an active member of Divest Smith College and explores coffee shops in the Pioneer Valley.

Music at MacLeish

11 Dec

Smith College CEEDS:

Below is a post by CEEDS intern Julia Graham, ’16 about an event that she and a fellow intern organized at the MacLeish Field Station. Julia is an environmental science and policy major and is completing the environmental concentration: sustainable food.

Originally posted on jsgraham2014:

On a recent cold and rainy evening, a troupe of dedicated Smithies wandered their way up to the Field Station to join a mysterious group of Smith faculty, staff, and friends. This is what we found in the building:

Music at MacLeish

photo 1-10

View original


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