Vol. 4, No. 2 - December 16, 2004

Rathmann Gift Enhances Environmental Studies

A new $80,000 grant from the Rathmann Family Foundation will support increased development of Skidmore's Environmental Studies (ES) Program, including the establishment of academic awards for students, funding for the recently opened Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center for Interdisciplinary Research, and launching the Water Resources Initiative, a community-based research project devoted to studying the Hudson River and the Kayderosseras Creek.

The generosity of the Rathmann Family Foundation has been "critical to building the curriculum of the Environmental Studies Program," according to Karen Kellogg, associate director of the program and assistant professor of environmental studies. Since 2002, Rathmann Family Foundation funds have supported a host of collaborative research projects and the development of a number of courses, including a new course titled the Adirondack Wilderness Experience. To be introduced during the summer of 2005, the course will cover the major challenges to the ecological, social, and economic success in the Adirondacks. Kyle Nichols, geosciences, and Bob Turner, government will teach the course.

Skidmore will match the grant with 100 percent funding.

A key project to be supported by the new funds is the Water Resource Initiative (WRI), designed to create a common research focus among Skidmore's faculty, students, and regional constituencies. Kellogg explained that the ultimate goal of the WRI "is to create a common point of discussion among our diverse faculty and students - a platform for discussion that will allow for a true interdisciplinary immersion in study and research." Two bodies of water will be the focus of the WRI: the headwaters of the Hudson River and the Kayderosseras Creek. According to Kellogg, the Hudson headwaters were selected because that area is "virtually unexplored," in terms of scientific research, while the Kayderosseras "is an incredible resource in our own backyard."

The WRI will integrate coursework across a range of disciplines, team-based research, and engagement with local, regional, national, and international concerns for the availability, distribution, uses, and quality of water. Elements of the WRI include the following:

  • a signature interdisciplinary, service-learning course. This spring, 10 seniors will be enrolled in Case Studies in Environmental Sustainability, undertaking "The Kayderosseras River Conservation Project." They will research the historical, economic, cultural, and biological aspects of the river, using GIS as a means to examine the interrelated data sets. Said Kellogg, "The GIS laboratory is geared to serving a very broad audience, and we're discovering what an important skill this knowledge is for ES students."
  • summer collaborative research involving faculty-student teams
  • case-based seminars related to water issues for first-year students who may or may not formally enter ES.

In addition, the new grant will fund two honor awards for ES students—one for a student on the program's science track and the other for a student on the social and cultural perspectives track. To be called the Rathmann Honor Awards, the prizes will be presented in recognition of academic excellence.

Additional initiatives to be supported by the new grant and matching funds include pedagogy workshops for faculty involved in ES. The Environmental Studies major was introduced in 2003 and has more than 40 affiliated faculty from 15 departments and programs delivering the ES curriculum to nearly 40 majors. Workshops will help increase communication about teaching concerns and help lay the foundation for an external review of the program sometime in 2005.

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