Notes From the Field Station: MacLeish as a Classroom Resource

27 Jan

Although geographically isolated from Smith’s main campus, the MacLeish Field Station is routinely visited by a variety of classes and departments looking to enhance their learning experience through practical application, exploration, and inspiration. Since its dedication in 2008, accessibility and awareness of the field station have steadily increased, resulting in more classes utilizing this space from a greater breadth of disciplines. Although for many colleges and universities a field station is focused primarily on the natural sciences, MacLeish has attracted and facilitated a large variety of classes, ranging from statistics to choreography.

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This past semester Plant Ecology (BIO 364) and MTH 245 (Introduction to Practice of Statistics) paired up to design and execute experiments or observational studies investigating a species or plant community of interest commonly found at the field station. Students visited the field station independently and during class time to implement, monitor, and gather data. Ultimately, students from both classes increased competency in the topic of the supporting class, improving the quality of the end product and their overall class experience.

This fall the field station also became a muse and canvas for architecture (ARS 386: Topics in Architecture), landscape studies (LSS 250: Landscape and Narrative), and dance classes (DAN 521: Choreography and the Creative Process). Working with the existing site conditions through site visits and research, architecture and landscape studies students were able to design structures and landscapes that embraced the surrounding environment with practical implications for the future development of the field station (the work of these two classes in addressed in more detail here).

Originally purchased by Smith in the 1970s as an observatory site for the astronomy department, the MacLeish observatory is still routinely used by astronomy classes today (AST 102: Sky and Time. AST 103: Sky and Telescopes, AST 111: Introduction to Astronomy) in addition to the McConnell rooftop observatory. Future plans for development of the field station include clearing areas around the observatory to further improve the capabilities of this resource.

Students in the Environmental Science and Policy class ENV 201 (Environmental Integration II: Collecting and Analyzing Information), were able to directly apply the techniques and information gained in class to surveys and experiments conducted at the field station. Students constructed pit-fall traps to sample local insect biodiversity and practiced plant species inventories using different methods such as quadrat, belt transect, and point-quarter centered sampling.

Lastly, Introduction to Archaeology (ARC 135) applied field methods and analytical techniques to investigate, reconstruct, and learn about the past culture of New England through material remains such as stone walls, building foundations, and lead and zinc mines. MacLeish even served as the site of a National Archeology Day celebration for the AIA Western Massachusetts Society, Whately Historical Society, and students from Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges!

It is obvious that the addition of the new Bechtel Environmental Classroom (BEC) to the field station will only act to increase the use of MacLeish for academic, leisure, and recreational pursuits. Through supplying necessities like lab and seminar spaces, in addition to the pure conveniences of bathrooms and a place to hide from the rain, the BEC will drastically improve and expand the potential of this facility as an multi-faceted resource for the Smith community.

Jessa Finch (’12)

CEEDS MacLeish Intern

This map shows the faculty research plots of Jesse Bellemare, Drew Guswa, and Paul Wetzel.

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