Near and far: Students conduct fieldwork with faculty around the world

Environmental Studies students are doing research in locales from Gettysburg to northern India
ES student and faculty research

Whether five or 7,500 miles away, the Gettysburg College environmental studies (ES) department offers students unmatched opportunities for research with faculty members in the field.

In the last year, ES students have done research in a variety of locales, from the area outside of Rajaji National Park in northern India to Devil’s Den, a boulder-strewn hill in Gettysburg National Military Park.

Environmental impacts of relocating Indian villages

When the opportunity arose to conduct research in India with two of her professors and a classmate, Jessie M. Pierce ’14, an ES and globalization studies major, jumped at the opportunity, “I was already planning on spending the spring semester in Jaipur, India when Prof. Ogra asked me if I would like to go to India a few weeks early to participate in a research project. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How could I refuse?”

 Cookstove research in India

With support from local NGO partner Project Gaia, Inc. (PGI) and ES and globalization studies Prof. Monica Ogra’s research colleagues at the Wildlife Institute of India, Pierce and Ogra studied the potential to introduce ethanol cookstoves to relocated Gujjar (an ethnic group in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) communities, as a means to mitigate deforestation, improve public health through reduction of cooking smoke exposure, and reduce CO2 and black carbon emissions. The Gujjar communities were relocated to nearby forested areas following the establishment of Rajaji National Park, which was established to protect the environment of the Asian elephant and tiger.

Traveling with them was ES Prof. Rutherford Platt and Ethan Dively ’14, also an ES major. Platt and Dively used remote sensing to analyze changes in forest resource use driven by the relocation of the Gujjar communities outside the boundaries of the park.

“Monica has been conducting research for years in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, working on issues related to conservation, development, and wildlife. Two years ago, she started thinking about how she could expand her research into the area of conservation-based displacement – assessing environmental and social consequences of relocating people from national parks in India. I thought there would be an interesting land use change dimension to that issue that I could work on – using emerging remote sensing methods to assess changes in grasslands and forest structure as grazing and fuelwood collecting pressures shift from inside to outside the parks,” Platt said.

 Pierce, Ogra, Platt, and Dively in IndiaSo, what’s next for the data Pierce, Ogra, Platt and Dively (pictured at right in India, in that order) collected while in India? Pierce will be supplementing the data, returning to the area during her semester abroad. Her research, along with analysis that will be conducted with Ogra this summer, will be part of her Mellon Summer Project. Pierce and Dively will also use this project as part of their honors theses.

Platt plans to expand the remote sensing project, leading to a peer-reviewed published article in the coming years. Ultimately the cookstove project will also yield a peer-reviewed published article, though more fieldwork is needed.

Ogra hopes that her future students can collect publishable data for the larger project in a variety of countries during their time abroad, like Alyssa Bosold ’13, an ES and globalization studies major (pictured below in Vietnam), whose related ES honors research project about sustainable cooking in Vietnam was largely developed as a result of a summer internship with PGI.  Bosold described the internship as “instrumental” to the success of her recent fieldwork in Vietnam and as an “amazing opportunity,” adding that she “was able to see first-hand how nonprofits such as PGI are working to change lives.”

 Bosold in Vietnam

“Alyssa’s work in Vietnam really helped to kick-start our India project, and helps me retain the comparative focus necessary to make the work as a whole more broadly relevant,” Ogra said. “I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such dedicated, enthusiastic students. 

She continued, “We are also so fortunate to have such a supportive community partner in PGI – who not only provided the stoves used in both Vietnam and India, but whose technical and practical inputs to the entire undertaking have been invaluable.  These projects could not have happened without them."

Dively appreciates that the ES department and the College make fieldwork abroad accessible, “Funding provided by the College (through funds donated to the ES department from the MAC Foundation and a College research and professional development grant) was critical to making the experience possible for me,” he said.

Alumnus Keith Masback ’87, CEO of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, also supported the project by working with the DigitalGlobe Foundation to provide free use of remotely sensed imagery.

The experience in India will be with the students long after their research is completed and they graduate from Gettysburg.  As Pierce puts it, “There’s just something about doing research in another country and conducting scholarly learning with the help of members of another culture that changes your worldview. It is both empowering and humbling to recognize one’s role in a globally collaborative society, and research provides a unique medium for achieving that.”

Impact of climate change on Devil’s Den

ES students don’t have to go halfway around the world to get a quality fieldwork experience. In fact, they barely have to go halfway across town.

 Collecting data at Devil's DenStarting in spring 2012, students in ES Prof. Sarah Principato’s “Glaciers and Records of Climate Change” course collected data to quantify the fracture patterns in the rocks at Devil’s Den. The cracks in the rocks formed due to freeze-thaw processes associated with the colder climate during glaciation.

After Principato’s class compiled and analyzed the pilot data, six students wanted to continue conducting research. During the fall 2012 semester, these students spent several more days at Devil’s Den analyzing the fracture patterns with Principato.

“We found that there were two distinct sets of fractures: micro and macro-fractures. However, we also found many additional weathering features in the surface of the rocks. We would like to work with the park service to analyze historical photographs of Devil’s Den to see if we can identify features in the rocks created during the Civil War, such as cannon balls hitting the rocks,” Principato said.

Students at Devil's DenThe students, Alexis Moyer ’13, Rebecca Taormina ’13, Brian Wooldredge ’13, Christina Jasion ’13, Cole Rossiter ’14, and Elizabeth Rouillard ’13, were co-authors with Principato on a presentation of their research and findings at the November 2012 National Geological Society of America conference in Charlotte, N.C.

“Environmental Studies students are excellent field research assistants. They work very hard, and they are full of energy,” Principato said. “The Devil’s Den project was a great opportunity for the students to help design a research project, collect the data, and then present their results at a national conference. It is great preparation for employment or graduate school.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Mon, 8 Apr 2013

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