Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What tree is that?

At the end of Diversity of Living Organisms lab on Monday I overheard a student comment, "That was the hardest thing I have ever done!". I felt quite proud. Clearly I had provided a challenge that mentally drained students. It was an activity that was challenging but that could be done with some careful thought and patience. Students were engaged in a project conducting a tree inventory for the campus of Lasell College. Students were assigned parcels of land owned by Lasell and charged with mapping the location of each tree, the species, the size, and health.

The student was right to exclaim the activity was hard. I spent five years studying the trees at Harvard Forest and I found this campus activity very challenging. In a native forest there are a limited number of species of trees one may encounter. It makes identification an easier process. However on an old, suburban, landscaped campus the number of species found grows significantly. As we explored our campus we encountered planted ornamentals, invasives, and rare native species. We encountered at least three species of oaks (possibly four but I am still not sure). While our dichotomous keys were useful, many times the keys could not help us identify the trees.

We ended the lab with what I would call a start at a campus tree inventory. I definitely need help from a local expert. The identification books are useful but some time with an expert would make me more confident. I'm not ready to publish our findings.

We found some beautiful historic trees though. Some of the oak trees measured over 3 meters in circumference. We will bring our maps back into the lab and start to compile and analyze the data. One goal is to clearly map the location of our historic trees. These trees are incredible resources for our campus that deserve additional attention and protection.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lasell Orienteering Course

Yesterday students in my World Geography class wandered around campus carrying a compass and a set of directions. It was a beautiful afternoon and I did not hear any complaints about heading outside for this activity. In lecture we have been working on map skills including topographic maps. In lecture on Tuesday we practiced how to use a map and compass and on Thursday we went out to put their practice to the test.

I established a set of seven orienteering courses. Students were given a set of about 10 directions. Each direction included a compass bearing and a distance. For example 150 feet at 215 degrees. They worked through the set of directions and hopefully ended at the correct destination. Not only was it a chance to practice their compass skills, the activity also forced them to do a little math. Students figured out their pace (how many steps per 100 feet) and then had to calculate the number of steps they needed to take to move the correct distance. Students quickly master the activity as it is not the most challenging but I still like to do it because it reinforces classroom concepts and it is memorable. As sad as it is to admit it, in a few years students might not recall much from the course but they will all remember that World Geography is the class in which students get to go outside and do a compass course. I like to try and do at least one activity like this in each course I teach. It is almost like trying to establish a brand identity. Professor Fredericks does this well. Everyone knows there is a Monopoly simulation in his accounting course.

Setting up an orienteering course is very time consuming. But having a PhD in geography I figured I must be able to use GIS tools or something similar to set the course without actually having to step outside. I first went to Google Earth to see if it could be done. At first look I could not because the compass did not have degree bearings. I figured somebody had created a compass kmz layer and sure enough I found one. After bringing in the compass I could look at campus from space and craft a set of orienteering directions. Luckily a topic in Tuesday's class was on declination. True north and magnetic north are not the same thing. I knew that the bearings on Google Earth would be true north so I had to take into account our declination which is about 16 degrees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waste-Free Lunch

I feel a bit ridiculous in the morning lugging my son and two canvas lunch coolers out of the apartment to the car. I must look like a mess with two lunch coolers, a computer bag, a gym bag, and a daycare supply bag draped over my shoulder. I think my son recognizes my struggle and insists on being carried just to complicate the 200 yard trek. I could easily eliminate the need for the large canvas lunch coolers but I refuse.

I used to eat almost everyday in the dining hall at Lasell but I have shifted to bringing lunch. Weekly costs and class schedules are part of the reason but mainly I do it because I want to eat healthier and eat in a more environmentally friendly manner. When I walk into the dining hall I have a hard time going for the salad bar when there are creamy hot entrees calling my name. The lunch I bring is super healthy and has no meat or refined carbohydrates. Just lots of fruit and vegetables. I need to emphasize lots as you need to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables to feel satisfied.

In addition to eating lower on the food chain, I work on packing waste-free lunches. Instead of plastic disposable baggies most of my lunch is packed in washable plastic containers. The large volume of food I bring packed in plastic containers explains the need for the large orange canvas cooler I bring. I know it looks like I am heading to the beach for a picnic but the cooler it really is just my lunch. I similarly pack a waste-free lunch for my son. This operation turns me into bag man every morning but I think it is worth the struggle.

Waste-free lunches are increasing in practice. Many schools have committed to promoting this approach to help teach reduce, reuse, recycle. The EPA even offers materials on Waste-Free Lunches. I think I will approach the teachers about starting a waste-free lunch campaign to try and modify the lunch packing behavior of parents at the daycare center. Parents will be packing lunches for the next 15 years and now is the time to learn how to do it more sustainably.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sunny Days

Most days I really enjoy my job as a professor at Lasell College but some days I really love it. Today is one of those days. In about an hour I get to take a group of students in my Diversity of Living Organisms (BIO102) class into the field to go birding. We will wander around the wetland and woods capturing images of the diversity the bird world has to offer while enjoying the 75 degree fall weather. Lovely!

Birding? Birding is not really my thing. I'm not very good at it so the challenge makes it even more enjoyable. We are heading to Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord. Birding is typically not an activity young college students engage in and I often get doubting looks when I tell students we are going birding. But once they get past their initial skepticism students usually buy into the experience and appreciate the activity. I ask students to write reflections about their birding experience and I frequently read comments about how they have a new appreciation for bird diversity.

Off I go to view the killdeers, snowy egrets, great blue herons, downy woodpeckers, yellow-rumbed warblers, red-tailed hawks, red-eyed vireos, dark-eyed juncos, and many other interesting species the Refuge has to offer. I hope my colleagues enjoy their day working in their stuffy offices and classrooms!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our New Dorms

Today I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on the "new corner of campus". The ceremony officially opened the two new residence halls and the new fitness center. The new quad created by the new buildings is very nice and a wonderful addition to our campus.

I worked out for the first time in the new fitness center this morning. It is a very efficient use of space and has some very nice equipment to help keep our student body healthy. I also wandered into the new dormitories on a guided tour. The design is again very efficient. I would describe the dorm as a slight modification of the traditional dormitory model with the exception of a shared bathroom located between neighboring rooms. I know there are many green building concepts incorporated into the new buildings including a very impressive rainwater recovery system. I'll share more about these features in future posts.

The ribbon cutting event today was quite nice. They had cookies, popcorn, ice cream, and iced tea. Dining Services did a great job minimizing waste and they even brought their own recycling receptacles. A lot of hard work went into building East and West Hall but I definitely think it was worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Fair Choice

The coffee carts at Lasell College have made a transition to serving Peet's Coffee this year. I'm pretty excited about this change. This morning I went for my first cup at the Laser Beans Café. After paying for my coffee I went to the station to dispense my coffee into my reusable mug. There I noticed I had a choice of House Blend or Fair Trade. I wondered why would anyone choose the House Blend over Fair Trade? Choosing the option that provides a livable wage to growers in Central America certainly seemed like the obvious choice to me.

I went to Peet's web site to do a little research. Maybe the two coffees really do taste significantly different and that drives consumers to make a less sustainable choice? House Blend is described as having a medium body and between a balanced and bright liveliness and is from Latin American beans. Fair Trade is between a medium and full balance and has a balanced liveliness. I drink a lot of coffee and I have no idea what this means.

There are a lot of cups of coffee consumed in a day at Lasell. Just look at all the paper cups in the trash (see previous blog posts about this one). It is great to have a Fair Trade option and I hope the community recognizes the significance of making this choice. Peet's coffee is new to our campus. Get in the habit of choosing Fair Trade from the start. If you don't see Fair Trade on the cart, send a note to Dining Services and respectfully ask that there always be a Fair Trade option. Collectively we can have an impact in helping farmers earn a livable wage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Where has Daley been?

My last post to this blog was in late May. While taking a three month break is not a good way to grow a blog, campus is quiet in the summer so I decided to allocate my time to other efforts.

This summer I had the opportunity to get back into my field research. You may have seen the short story about my work on the Lasell homepage. The Boston Area Climate Experiment is a very exciting project that is going to have a big impact in the climate change field. I have been studying how carbon and water processes in vegetation will be altered climate conditions. It was nice to return to being an ecologist for the summer. This week I am starting to assume my other role as a teacher of science.

I also spent time over the summer writing grants. I developed a proposal to implement Smart Meter Technology in the residential buildings at Lasell. The technology will allow us to meter electricity use within individual dorms and even floors. With this technology we will be able to run competitions and share energy use information with students in real time. This technology will provide a tremendous platform to build student research projects from in a variety of classes at Lasell including environmental studies courses, economic courses, and even psychology courses.

Taking advantage of the recent Davis Foundation Grant, I also wrote a few proposals for research in the courses I am teaching this fall. Students in Geography will be conducting a transect study of geographic variables along the MBTA Green Line. Students in Environmental Science will be studying the water quality of the campus pond and researching potential non-point sources such as the golf course and residential lawns. Finally students in the Diversity of Living Organisms will be conducting a biodiversity inventory of vegetation on campus to start the generation of a long-term management plan.

Also this summer I met with consultants from Princeton Energy as they conducted their work to help Lasell develop an Energy Management Plan. This document will be extremely useful in guiding energy conservation project decisions over the long-term. I look forward to seeing this report soon.

I wrote a report of the work done by the Environmental Sustainability Committee. I will be sharing that document with the campus very soon. We have made great progress in the past two years.

Finally I had the opportunity to interview candidates for the Assistant Director of Plant Operations and Sustainability position. Hiring a staff member with sustainability responsibilities will be a huge boost to our Green Campus Initiative. Hopefully we will see someone on campus in that position soon.

I am excited to be returning to the classroom though. I revamped my Environmental Science course and I am very excited about the changes in structure I have made. I am also very excited about the field experiences I will be taking students on in Diversity of Living Organisms. We will be researching birds at the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, crabs on the Quincy shore, salamanders at Hemlock Gorge and visiting many other great ecosystems.