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HCC-ALC: Owl Pellets Lab

6 Nov

After an owl hunts, how does it eat its prey? With a fork and a knife? Although modest, owls prefer to keep it simple by swallowing their prey whole. Impressive as it sounds, Jessika, a student at HCC- Adult Learning Center in Holyoke, asked, “Does that mean owls can digest bones and feathers?” The answer is…no! The undigested parts form a tight pellet that is later regurgitated. Gross! But not as much if it’s sterilized.

This past Wednesday (Nov. 1), through STEM Outreach, Thomas Gralinski, Ellen Sulser (‘18) and I (Erika Melara ‘20) visited the learning center and introduced the concept of Food Chains and Food Webs to a small class of pre-GED adult learners. After delivering a baseline presentation, we prepared a lab activity to dissect owl pellets. We particularly focused on the barn owls which usually prey on insects, reptiles, bats, and small rodents. An interesting fact about these owls is that they can hear a mouse’s footsteps from 30 yards away! This is fascinating, considering most of us can barely hear our names being called across the room.

Although some students were reluctant at first, by the end of the lab activity, they were determined to find and classify each of the bones to later boast about their owl’s appetite. Personally, I was bewildered about how some of the bones (i.e. skulls) were intact and well-preserved. Take a look at some of the pictures!

-Erika Melara is a Scorpio, who comes from El Salvador, where she enjoys eating pupusas and going to the beach.

Meet the Intern

23 Mar

 

Breanna

Hi! I’m Breanna Parker ’18 and am an intern in campus sustainability at Smith College. I came to Smith from a small town in Iowa. I chose to study Environmental Science and Policy because I want to work toward a future that supports the economy, the environment and society as a whole.

Smith College is committed to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2030. To accomplish this goal, the college must reduce its carbon emissions by mitigating the direct use of fossil fuels and by increasing efficiency on campus. However, other sources of carbon emissions, such as travel by students, staff and faculty, cannot feasibly be eliminated, which is why Smith is exploring the option of carbon offsets. A carbon offset is a way to invest in renewable energy, clean technology and efficiency and receive a carbon credit toward achieving full carbon neutrality.

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Currently, I’m working to develop guidelines for Smith’s innovative carbon offset program, the Community Climate Fund. The program is a collaboration with Amherst, Hampshire and Williams Colleges and the Center for EcoTechnology. The goal of the fund is to generate carbon offsets locally in western Massachusetts with co-benefits for the community and the colleges. The research phase was launched in 2015 and now the Community Climate Fund is implementing its first project to assist local businesses and institutions invest in high-efficiency heating systems by providing funding to lower the cost of the units. The additional funding provides an incentive to those organizations to invest in new heating systems. The reduction in energy use from these high-efficiency heating systems does three things: it helps the businesses save money and be more energy efficient, and it generates a carbon offset for the Community Climate Fund, which will help Smith reach its goal of being of being carbon neutral by 2030. It is very exciting to see Smith take action both on campus and in the community to support a sustainable future.

Smith team takes on climate change video challenge

27 Feb

Each year the Environmental Engineering and Science Foundation (EESF) and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) put out a call to current undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental engineering or sciences worldwide for a video competition.

This year’s theme, “What can individuals do to help reduce climate change?”, inspired Jocelyn Yax ’18 (engineering), Amelia Wagner ’18J (engineering/government), and Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos ’19 (environmental science and policy) to take on the challenge. Assistant Professor Niveen Ismail in the Picker Engineering Program acted as the faculty advisor for the project.   Check out their video on YouTube.

The winning teams will be announced at the Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science awards ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on April 13, 2017.

eesf_logoMore on the contest rules:
The video should be targeted to motivate 8th grade and higher students to change daily habits that contribute to climate change. The video may also be used more broadly to motivate the general public to change simple patterns that contribute to climate change.

The video should motivate individuals to change daily habits that cause carbon emissions that may contribute to climate change. People have varying views on climate change. Contestants are urged to develop a message that acknowledges the breadth of opinions on this issue but that encourages everyone to make changes that will help with climate change. Because most people do not understand the roles of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the video should end with brief reference as to how Environmental Engineers and Scientists are working on climate issues.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 5

23 Jan

Students Zoey Sims ’19 and Rachael Drinker ’20 report on the final day of their Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape.

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Today, after spending the week learning and preparing, we led the 6th graders from the Smith College Campus School around the field station for two hours. The day started with the students arriving earlier than expected, but this gave us and their teachers time to get them organized into groups. We collected our students and moved to our designated first activity. The groups rotated between the stations (weathergrams and the living building, Dan Ladd’s tree art sculpture, the blindfold tree game, the cellar hole and hike, and the orchard) so the students could see everything. 

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Playing the blindfolded get-to-know-a-tree game!

Zoey: Several students in my group found ways to bring humor to each of  our activities which helped get the other students more interested and involved. When we asked questions, the 6th graders usually responded with well-thought-out answers or guesses, which was encouraging. A few times, when they were done giving serious responses and ready for us to just tell them the answers, they gave sarcastic responses such as “aliens” as an explanation for the stone walls on the sides of the path. At some points while we were explaining things, it seemed like the students were just goofing off. I was happily surprised when they were able to answer questions and recall information that I thought they hadn’t paid attention to, such as how to differentiate between a white and a red pine by counting the needles in a bundle.

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A beautiful weathergram by one of the students

Rachael:  I was intrigued by the process of figuring out how to tailor the day to each of the students’ learning styles while also being on the move and teaching about multiple topics. My favorite times were when I could see something piqued the interest of a student who had previously seemed sarcastic and unenthusiastic. One such moments was at the cellar hole. I noticed one student liked to do hands-on things and so I hinted at the idea that, hidden under a big pile of leaves on one side of the hole, there might be bricks from the old collapsed chimney. The student almost immediately stopped goofing off and asked if they could try to find the bricks. It turned into a sort of treasure hunt during which they asked a flurry of questions and tried to date the pieces of brick they found. This made me curious about what I could do to interest the other students and I experimented with this throughout the day. Other highlights included the students teaching me how to whistle with an acorn cap, intentional yelling in the woods about nature, and discussing whether or not a track the students found was big enough to be from a bear (they eventually decided it was from a domesticated dog).

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Our debrief after the students left

After the 6th graders left, we regrouped to eat lunch, reflect, and debrief. There were a few experiences that several groups had in common, such as a struggle to get everyone involved during the first activity and a surprising enthusiasm for the blindfold tree game. Many of our classmates recounted specific challenges and successes; every group had a few things that went particularly well and a few which they would have changed if they had the chance to do this again. All in all, it seemed like we had mostly enjoyable experiences but we were also relieved when it was over.

The Future of Sustainable Livestock Farming

17 Jan

We are students from Professor Washington-Ottombre’s ENV 101 class. For our final project in December, we made a short video about the future of sustainable livestock farming, which explores the current state or “regime” of the U.S. livestock system, and possible improvements the industry could make to move to a more sustainable regime. Our video is a mixture of animation, footage from one of our farms, and system models we learned to make in class. The models show where the livestock industry is now and where it could go from here based on a few variables.

Take a look at our video here!

The main idea in our video is a hypothetical non-profit organization we created called F.A.R.M. which stands for Farm Assessment Re-envisioning and Maintenance. The organization helps already sustainable farms stay sustainable and gives them a grade based on their level of sustainability, similar to LEED certification, but at no cost. In addition, the organization helps farms that don’t meet the requirements of sustainability transition to being more sustainable at no cost.

We hope you enjoy our video and that it sparks ideas and interests surrounding today’s agriculture system, perhaps even on the way toward re-envisioning a more sustainable future.

photo-4Emelyn Chiang ’20, Kimby Davis ’17, Tori Greco Hiranaka ’19, Elsbeth Pendleton-Wheeler ’19 and Claire Rand ’20

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 4

13 Jan
Interterm students Ruby Kohn ’19 and Maya Salvio ’18, from the class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

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We began our day by continuing to brainstorm for the 6th grade field trip tomorrow. The 6th graders are coming for two hours and it is our job to encourage engagement with the field station.
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We had the help of Oakley, Carol’s adorable yellow lab, who was quite taken with Reid. They had some good bonding time.
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We decided to take the 6th graders, in small groups, to five stations around MacLeish where we will teach them how humans interact and intervene in the natural environment around us. One way we will engage with them is by making weathergrams. We went a little overboard in our preparations and prepped 200 for 37 students…we got a little excited.
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After planning our five stations, we did a dry run of the hike that we’ll do with the sixth graders. While each group will start in a different location, the groups will explore the Living Building, investigate the apple orchards and weather tower, examine the historic cellar of the Waite family, observe the art installation, and play the get-to-know-a-tree game as well as create weathergrams.
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Someone got snow in their boots…
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We then went back to the classroom and reflected on our day. There are so many post-it notes!
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We are so excited to meet the 6th graders tomorrow!!!
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Interterm at MacLeish, Day 3

12 Jan

Caroline Eyman ’18 and Regina Wu ’18, students in the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, are today’s guest bloggers.

Today was fortunately a warmer day with a high of 49°F–a nice change compared to 18°F on Monday. We started off the day with an introduction to the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. The field station was named after the MacLeishes who were good friends with Smith College’s first woman president, Jill Ker Conway. The field station itself is 240-acres of forest and farmland located in West Whately, Massachusetts. Smith College first purchased the land for an observatory. The college wanted to protect the observatory from light pollution and West Whately seemed to be the perfect location.

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It was fascinating to hear about the development of the MacLeish Field Station which began in the fall of 2008. In addition to the college’s faculty and staff, many Smith students were part of the design process of the liberal arts field station. Students came together from different disciplines (landscape studies, architecture, engineering) and worked with each other to create things such as recreational trails, a solar-powered electric fence, and a fire pit.

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After the introduction to the field station, we made our way outside to the ropes course for some adventure education. In our first challenge, Full House, we had to silently choose a woodland creature to pretend to be. We then stepped onto the wooden balance beams. The challenge was to figure out who was what creature, without talking, and to order ourselves from smallest to largest without falling off. It’s always a fun time to play silent charades while trying to balance on wood beams! On our way from the first challenge course to the next, we divided into groups where one person lead three people who were blindfolded. We all made it safe and sound to our next destination. The next challenge was a low ropes course called the Whale Watch. We were on a large wooden platform seesaw and our goal was to balance the platform while completing different tasks, such as two people switching from one side of the platform to the other or the entire group forming a circle and shuffling in one direction–all while the platform was balanced. It is not as simple as it may seem!

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The afternoon portion of the class was spent mostly inside learning more about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom and the different aspects of the Living Building Challenge. We began by discussing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for buildings. We discussed how members of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) wanted to make it more difficult to achieve a certification similar to LEED. The members of the USGBC created the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge has seven main components: water, energy, site, material, health, beauty and equity. We analyzed how each component was used in the building process and use of the classroom.

Before we debriefed at the end of the day, we received a lesson about composting toilets. We went down to the basement and saw where all of the human waste is deposited. We even opened up the chamber where the waste was held, and some of us were brave enough to look inside. The wood shavings covered up the smell!

After our composting lesson, we ended our day by continuing to plan for the sixth graders on Friday. We are excited for them to come experience the magical place that is the MacLeish Field Station.

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 2

11 Jan

As part of the Interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, students are writing blog posts about their class activities. Today’s guest bloggers are Rhiannon Nolan ’19, Sarah Netsky ’17, and Caitlyn Perrotta ’20.

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We started our day by tromping off into the snow with Jesse Bellemare, a Smith bio professor, who talked to us about how humans have impacted this area since the post-glacial period–changing the landscape by lighting fires, hunting larger game animals, and changing the natural ecological balance.

In the 1600s and 1700s there was a lot of tension in the hilly area that is now MacLeish as the French, British and indigenous people violently argued over the land. This caused the valley, where Northampton is now located, to become more populated until the hills were deemed safe to inhabit.

Jesse took us to see the stone walls around the field station which, at first, one might overlook, but he explained that the walls were evidence of property boundaries from the 1600 to 1700s. Walls with large rocks indicated that the land had been used as a sheep pasture. Walls with rocks off all sizes indicated that the land had been used as a vegetable garden because people more meticulously removed small stones from the soil.

Next Jesse showed us a depression that was once the cellar of a farm home in the 1790s, where a family of 10 to 12 lived and farmed. This home, and much of the surrounding land, was only inhabited for about a generation. The numerous children of these farm families needed their own land to cultivate and moved westward toward more fertile, flatter land on which to farm. The lack of continuous cultivation caused the forest to reclaim the land, giving us the woody area that we see today. These forests are young, causing them to lack a lot of the features that older forests have, such as large pieces of dead wood.

We went in to the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to eat lunch (and nuts!) and then went outdoors individually to hang our weathergrams from yesterday. Some people used the time to reflect and observe the landscape, similar to our sensory exercise from yesterday, and others used it to go sledding down the slopes.

After lunch, Maggie Newey, a museum educator at Smith, came to discuss visual learning strategies that we could employ both in our own lives and when thinking about how to teach sixth graders about the field station. She had us take a couple of minutes to examine our view of MacLeish from indoors and then do the same with a photograph she provided of Scotland. We did a similar activity again after breaking into groups to look at small objects from nature that we had collected while out with Jesse.

We closed by starting to plan how we would structure our Friday with the sixth graders. We can’t wait to meet them in a few days!

Interterm at MacLeish, Day 1

10 Jan

January at Smith: the campus is coated in a blanket of snow, the students enrolled in interterm classes are dressed in hats and mittens, and professors are immersed in grading papers and exams from first semester.

This week, the interterm class Landscape Interpretation: Get to know and learn to share your New England landscape, is being held at MacLeish Field Station. As part of the course, students will be writing and sharing blog posts about their experience.

Today’s post is from Hannah Schneider ’18 and Marisa Douglas ‘AC.

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Day 1, Monday

Today was a busy day since we had a lot of ground to cover. After we arrived at the Field Station, we got to know one another and made our own sketchbooks. The first thing we used the books for was an individual exercise: observe the outdoors with as many of our senses as possible and record our observations through sketches, notes and sound maps. We each took about 15 minutes to simply be present in nature and then make our observations in the books. Upon returning to the classroom, we divided into two groups and shared a few highlights so we could construct a spoken poem.

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Using our sketchbooks and chosen words, we created weather-grams using weatherproof ink on recyclable paper to withstand the harsh New England elements. These weather-writings will be placed on tree branches in the places that inspired us or along trails for other visitors and neighbors to enjoy. The idea is that we write a note to nature and, in time, nature will write us a note back!

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After lunch, Paul Wetzel helped us brainstorm a list of possible animal tracks we could find around MacLeish, from field mice to moose. We learned that understanding the anatomy of an animal can help identify the marks they make (e.g. deer have jagged incisors located on the bottom of their mouth, whereas rabbits have slanted incisors, almost at a 45 degree angle, on the bottom and top of their mouth). We then used what we had learned to find fox, rabbit, deer, mouse and porcupine tracks as Paul lead us through the woods on a beautiful (and cold!) hike. We also looked at different types of trees and plants and even had a taste of one.

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On the way, Paul showed us other interesting things such as the weather station and woodland animal “highways.” Upon noticing some hemlock trees, the group also found a popular porcupine hang out spot.

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When we returned to the classroom, we used our new sketchbooks one last time to reflect on our day. To keep track of what we’ve done each day, we posted sticky notes on a map of the station. We’ll use a different color for each day, and at the end of the week we will be able to see our thoughts, questions and memories throughout the week.

A Look Inside Hopkins House

7 Dec

Eliana Gevelber ’19 and Ariana Banks ’18, students in ENV 311 Interpreting and Communicating Environmental Information, write about Hopkins House.

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The Hopkins House cooperative is a Smith house where students cook and do chores together. Because Hopkins residents are not on the meal plan, they have to make their own meals. Food is typically bought in bulk.

Hopkins co-op residents, also known as “Hopkids,” try to be conscious of where their food comes from. One way the co-op does this is by having people fill out a food survey just before each semester. Questions on the survey not only ask about people’s dietary restrictions, but also from where they want to buy vegetables, meat and other animal products. Hopkins gets produce from Hampshire College’s farm CSA in the fall and from various farms at the local farmers’ market in the winter. Also, the carnivores in the house weighed in about whether they wanted to only buy local, organic and humane meat or whether factory farmed would be okay. The survey results from the beginning of the semester showed people prioritized having local meat over having meat often; since local meat is more expensive, we only rarely consume meat. In fact, we’ve only had meat once or twice so far this semester. Hopkins gets bulk dried goods ordered and delivered by the Florence-based cooperative called Pedal People. Ordering large quantities of food reduces the packaging and emissions from shipping associated with food.

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Hopkins residents minimize food waste by utilizing excess and leftover goods. The extra food is stored in a pantry and refrigerated bins and cabinets. Excess produce is even chopped and canned into mason jars for later use. As shown in the picture at the top, Eliana, a resident of Hopkins, made chutney from the abundant green tomatoes that were rescued at the end of the growing season from the Smith Community Garden. There were two grocery bags full of green tomatoes that were not being used, so Eliana made them into a flavorful sauce. The house also relies on composting to ensure food scraps and other compostable items are not going to waste. Compost bins are emptied twice a week into a larger compost bin behind Chapin House.

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