UIU develops collaborations between students, agencies, alumni, and landowners

Derrick Klimesh, Wetlands Specialist with Iowa’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, presents to UIU students as part of the field science speaker series.

Integrating classroom knowledge with applied learning opportunities is critical to the professionalization and competitive success of students.  Through multiple collaborations, Upper Iowa students pursuing degrees in field sciences including majors in conservation management, environmental science, life science, and biology, have been able to reap the rewards of a strong foundation.

During the last several years, Dr. Jennifer Stoffel, Associate Professor of Biology, in conjunction with faculty in the School of Science and Mathematics, have worked to encourage students partnering with local landowners and agencies.  During these collaborations, students are able to apply their classroom knowledge while helping agencies or landowners.  With these on-site activities, students learn techniques and practices that are common in the field, not only from their instructors, but also from agency stake-holders.

These field experiences have enriched class experiences for a wide variety of majors. For example, this fall the Soil and Water Conservation (ES 220) students were able to go to Becky’s Fen to work with Wetlands Biologist Derrick Klimesh, Dr. Stoffel and Dr. Figdore to understand the rare hydrology of the fen, the soils on the fen, and the subsequent plant communities they form.  The ES 220 class also, traveled to Dick Jensen’s farm near Elgin, Iowa, where they worked hands-on with Jensen, soil scientists, soil conservationists, district conservationists from the NRCS office studying the effects of conservation farming practices vs. conventional farming practices. “We’re all working together to teach people – the next generation of farmers, conservation professionals and ag-business leaders, and the community – the same thing. Soil conservation is important for our future generations,” said Stoffel. The field opportunities have resumed this spring, as Dr. Stoffel’s Wildlife Management class collaborated with DNR wildlife biologist Jason Auel at Sweet Marsh to estimate the number of nesting pairs of Canada geese to project what the population size is at Sweet Marsh compared to other population estimation techniques.

Additional professional development opportunities for UIU students include seminars from professionals in outdoor field sciences, attendance at professional conferences, and training in resume development and job application skills.  A field sciences speaker series was implemented this year by Dr. Stoffel to help students explore and invigorate their interest in fields that they might wish to pursue. Seven speakers (five of whom were UIU alumni), from federal, state, and county positions came to speak to students to help them understand what they do and how UIU coursework and work-related experiences can help them gain an advantage in their field.  Additionally, students were also provided with the opportunity to attend two professional conferences through Winterfest and the Iowa Academy of Sciences. Likewise, students had the opportunity to attend resume and cover letter workshops hosted by Dr. Stoffel to help them prepare to apply for both permanent and summer employment in fields of their choosing.

“It has been such an honor to see UIU alums and agencies partner in the professional development of UIU students in the field sciences.  These experiences have been truly transformative.  I can see the way that students think of themselves and conduct themselves out of the classroom in a way that fosters an environment of learning, collaboration, and professionalization.  The partnerships are also very rewarding for me as an educator to further validate the types of teaching and learning activities I reinforce with the students,” said Dr. Stoffel.

The speaker series is actively looking for additional alumni willing to share their experiences with UIU students.  Ideally, speakers will be new or on a three year rotation to keep the information new and types of careers expansive.  If you are interested in volunteering to serve in the field sciences speaker series please email Dr. Jennifer Stoffel at stoffelj@uiu.edu to coordinate a time that will work well for you and the students.  Distance is no challenge through the use of technology.

The School of Science and Mathematics would like to thank our speakers who participated in the speaker series thus far in the 2014-2015 year by acknowledging them here in order of attendance: Dan Weber, Scot Michelson, Derrick Klimesh, Theresa Shay, Brian Fankhauser, Mark Sedlmayr, and Kate Zimmerman.

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