Student Stories: Baywatch -- Environmental major immersed in Chesapeake class

Katie Speicher recently found herself spending a sunny weekend on the Chesapeake Bay -- but it wasn’t for a vacation. Instead, the trip was just one of the many highlights she experienced while taking an environmental resources management class.

The course, offered by the College of Agricultural Sciences, specifically focuses on the issues surrounding the health and stability of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with an emphasis on real-world application. Speicher, a junior majoring in environmental resource management, elaborated on the aspects that make this course different from others at Penn State.

"The best part of this course is how applicable it is to real life. There were no exams in this class, but rather we were given large assignments that mimicked something we might have to do in a real job, like developing grant proposals and public outreach tools."

Speicher decided to take the course because she grew up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and is interested in water-quality issues. She also hoped to gain practical experience for a possible career in an environmental field. She found the networking opportunities offered by the course to be particularly valuable.

"Through our guest speakers and multiple field trips we were able to make a lot of professional contacts," she said. "As one of the speakers said, you need to put yourself inside the circle instead of just standing outside of it, and I definitely think this class helped all of us to do that."

In addition to the weekend trip to the Chesapeake Bay, the course also featured field trips to local wastewater treatment facilities and a tour of the campus' stormwater best-management practices.  All of trips are led by local professionals in the industry, adding to the real-world experience gained by students like Speicher.

After the completion of each trip, students submit a written travel retrospective that includes analysis and discussion, accounting for 20 percent of their final grade. Speicher found that developing these written assignments was one of the tougher aspects of the course.

"I could memorize a thousand facts about the Chesapeake Bay, but actually having to take that information and make it understandable to a variety of audiences was challenging, but also rewarding."

After graduation, Speicher hopes to continue working in an environmental field, improving the natural environment using skills developed from this course.

"Coming to college has made me realize how uncommon it is to understand the relationship between agriculture and the environment," she said. "It is really sad to me that more people aren't aware of the natural world, and it has made me aware of how vital education and outreach are."

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Last Updated May 12, 2016