Fisheries and wildlife students wade into deep learning

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One of the things I love about VCSU is our focus on experiential education. I love how innovative our faculty are: from business students working collaboratively with community businesses (such as developing marketing campaigns for the Barnes County Museum), to music students providing workshops to area schools, to student teachers wearing GoPro cameras to capture video so that they may learn how effective they are from their students’ point of view. The examples are endless!I appreciate how our faculty really understand and put deep learning to work. I smile at New Student Orientation when our incoming fisheries and wildlife students are told that within a week of classes starting they will not be sitting in a lecture hall but rather will be standing in a stream with waders on! In a very real sense, the world is our classroom. Case in point: I just finished reading fisheries and wildlife student blogs about their field trip to Texas with professors Casey Williams and Lauren Dennhardt. It was fun following them through their blog posts. Most of the hands-on learning activities happened in two settings. First, the Big Thicket National Preserve, described by Jacob Rambow as a different world. “We had to drive back on a back road through the swamps of the Big Thicket. It was full of cypress trees. It honestly looked like the perfect snake habitat, which was a little eerie.” The second location, Port Aransas and the National Wildlife Refuge there, provided sites for saltwater seining and kayaking in the bays to barrier islands.VCSU student Morgan Berquist captured the seining process in her blog entry: “To seine fish, one needs waders and two others for assistance. Two people will be on either side of the seine (a big net), holding the brail poles. …As the two individuals pull the seine downstream, fish will accumulate within the net. …Once the seine has been pulled downstream for about 10 yards, it will be pulled out of the water to view the catch. The third person will be trailing the seiners to collect the fish specimens.”My favorite line was when Benjamin Holen wrote that “…after the first seine haul, I leaped with joy. In the bottom of the net was a pirate perch and warmouth. Two of the coolest fish that wetalked about in class were in the bottom of our net!” Ben also noted that the diversity and ecology of streams in Texas differed greatly from those of North Dakota.Students also used a backpack electrofisher for sampling fish populations. In one post a student wrote that a full day of sampling allowed them to record over 30 species of fish! They also hiked through the woods, identifying plants and using knowledge from their ornithology class to detect birds. The colorful student blogs included dolphin sightings, stingrays, crabbing, friends and learning. At one point a student included a photo of a rather large bird, described in one entry as 15 feet tall and another 22 feet tall. (I suspect there were some “fish tales” included within the scientific exploration.) I am sure that friendships were strengthened and that amidst the learning there was much laughter, with stories that will be told over and over—such as the snake sighting reported by Marissa Kirby: “While in the middle of scooping up some minnows, the rest of the group started yelling ‘SNAKE! Get out of the water!’ After hustling out, I saw everyone frantically scurrying away…. The loudest…screech I have ever heard came from Dalton’s mouth. The group gathered on the highest ground they could find. As our electrofishing group walked over, we learned the nature of the commotion. On one part of the creek was a water moccasin and on the other half was a diamondback snake. From then on, this Texas Ecology class will forever associate Texas not for being the Lone Star State but for being the Poisonous Snake State.”The students, traveling with their professors, noted the significance of this trip. As Cooper Folmer said, “I enjoyed every single part of this trip, except the wrong turns and long car rides. Each day was very educational and eye-opening. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.”To Casey, Lauren, and all the VCSU faculty: Thank you for your commitment to deep learning. Your innovation and passion for teaching always make it a great day to be a Viking!