Twenty-eight cartography and geography majors at East Central University and their three faculty members left their classrooms for the geography of the Oklahoma panhandle recently to attend the Oklahoma Academy of Science (OAS) Fall Field Meeting.
The students and Dr. Greg Plumb, Dr. Mark Micozzi and Dr. Robert Newcomer traveled to Kenton for the field camp at Black Mesa State Park. Students were able to learn from scientists in aquatic invertebrates, astronomy, botany, entomology, geography, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, malacology, ornithology and mammalogy.
Students enrolled in ECU cartography courses have been required for five years to participate in a fall field camp at one of Oklahoma's state parks chosen by the OAS. Part of the OAS mission is to stimulate scientific research, encourage fraternal relationship and share ideas among Oklahoma students and scientists in various disciplines of science.
"This mission is exactly what we want for our students in the department and we agreed, as a department, to expand our commitment to quality teaching with the addition of field work," Micozzi said. "There is no better classroom for geography than being out in the field, and one way to accomplish this is to attend a two- to three-day field camp that brings students of all ages from across the state, together with faculty, to do science in the field."
The field camp has become a popular event with students. Faculty members relied on the ECU Alumni Enhancement Fund in the past to help with expenses.
"Since Black Mesa State Park near Kenton required an extra day of travel due to its location at the far northwest corner of the Panhandle, carpooling and logistics became a daunting task," Micozzi said.
The faculty really wanted to make this trip happen, he said, since most students have never traveled to this part of the state.
"This would give students a rare chance to test their geotechnical skills in a place they know nothing about and teach them more about the physical and human geography of Oklahoma during the cross-state journey."
The excitement was high but the funds were low, he said. Since Micozzi is the institutional representative for the NASA Fellowship Program at ECU, he contacted the Oklahoma Space Grant Director, Dr. Victoria Duca-Snowden at the University of Oklahoma, for assistance. NASA agreed to help because of the similarity of the OAS goals to NASA's strategic goals for engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math.
With funding from the ECU Alumni Enhancement Fund, the NASA Space Grant Program and the NASA Workforce Development Grant, Micozzi chartered a bus for the cross-state journey.
"We got some odd stares when we pulled up in a chartered bus in the middle of the shortgrass prairie," he said.
At the field camp, students were treated to a star party with more than 100 telescopes, a hike to the highest point in Oklahoma, a visit to the famed Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast at the base of Black Mesa, a visit to the tri-state marker where Colorado, New Mexico and Colorado meet, dinosaur footprints and live global positioning wired into the DVD system on the bus.
In addition, students visited Autograph Cliff where names were carved in sandstone from traders along the Santa Fe Cut-Off.
"The trip was a great success and it was made possible by the ECU Alumni Office and NASA as both entities strongly believe in the importance of teaching 'outside of the box,' or in this case, 'outside of the classroom,'" Micozzi said.
Since the trip was so successful, Micozzi said he plans to push the idea to include non-majors enrolled in general education courses such as Earth Science.
"This will enable students to apply their studies to the world outside the classroom doors. After all, it's all about geography."
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