Indiana University Kokomo students are playing urban geologists, digging soil sample pits, testing water quality, and participating in ecosystem restoration. They're also learning how people have impacted the environment, and what they can do to help.
Ashley Douglass, Kokomo, admits she was hesitant to take a class with required fieldwork. As it turns out, she likes it.
"I'm not an outdoors person, so it kind of freaks me out to play in the soil," she said. "I have been surprised by how much I enjoy this class, and how much I've learned. I didn't realized how much of an impact people have had on the world, and on our environment."
She also appreciates this class is part of IU Kokomo's new Maymester program, allowing her to earn the last three credits she needed to earn her sociology degree in only four weeks.
Leda Casey, lecturer in geology, said it is the same kind of work she did as a geologist for the Indiana Department of Enviromental Managment.
"They are seeing a real-world application for what they are learning," she said. "I think the students like getting out of the classroom and getting their hands dirty. Kokomo has a perfect environment to study urbanization and geology."
The class studied local geology and the value of green space in an urban environment by visiting Foster Park. By the end of the class, each student will participate in an individual project at a local ecosystem restoration site. They will also complete a mock groundwater contamination investigation and assess the quality of one of the campus streams.
On this particular day, the 10 students are studying the soil in the southeastern part of the campus, between the creek and the parking garage.
Casey instructs each group of five as they dig pits, one in the tall grass a few feet from the creek, the other about 130 feet further west, to examine the differences between the two areas.
"As urban geologists, we're looking for good places to see the variation in soil types," Casey said. "We have lots of great places for fieldwork on our campus."
Each group marks off a two-foot square in their zone with stakes, before using shovels to cut around the square, going deep enough to remove whole sections of sod with the root base intact. This allows them to put it back in place when they are done, as good stewards of the environment. Then, they shovel out a pit deep enough to see layering in the soil.
Near the creek, Kyle Galloway, Kokomo, says the fieldwork is his favorite part of the class.
"I like to learn hands on, rather than sitting in a classroom," he said. "I've been interested in learning about the effects of run off on the floodplains near streams."
Kelly McKinney, Kokomo, said he could apply what he is learning to his current job working on a farm, and can teach it when he is a high school science teacher. It also helps him with his gardening.
"This class fills a natural interest of mine," he said. "This is all stuff I put into practice in everyday life."
He appreciates the Maymester program, which made it possible for him to earn three credits in only four weeks.
"It's nice to get it done, and then have the rest of the summer for farming," he said.
Once they've finished digging, the students lean into the pit, examining the exposed dirt to complete a soil profile, examine layers, and mark any organisms they find. The group near the creek finds river deposits in their soil.
The second group dug their pit closer to the parking garage, and had a tough time shoveling through a layer of gravel and clay tile. Casey said that layer was likely fill material placed there when the parking garage was built. They dig down about 90 centimeters to find clean soil to examine.
"It's amazing how much you can learn about our campus' natural history, all from a pile of dirt," Casey said.
IU Kokomo's new Maymester program offers students a chance to earn three credits in a short time period, in an immersive class. A few other offerings include a summer blockbuster class, in which students study cinematography and editing through viewing and discussing current movies; an art class that will culminate in building a class sculpture, and a creative performance class that includes creating and producing a play. Maymester continues through Thursday, June 6.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.