Of the many intriguing science classes at Cornell, Introductory Field Biology offers a unique experience for students to immerse themselves in ecology both in and out of the classroom.
Natural Resources 2100 is an outdoor field course exclusively for Environmental and Sustainability Science majors in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. During the course, students take brief field trips around Ithaca twice a week to learn about different aspects of environmental science such as ornithology, forestry, dendrochronology and lessons on invasive plants.
Before each outdoor lab, students undertake a one-hour lecture session in which they learn about what they will see in nature that same week.
“One reason why [Field Bio] is special is that it brings together a lecture and an outside field portion,” co-instructor Marc Gobel, natural resources, said. “Talking about something interesting in lecture and then taking the time during lab to show students the actual objects of interest –– such as the field, the stream, the forest, and the meadow –– is what makes this course worthwhile.”
Gobel teaches the course with co-instructor Paul Rodewald of the Lab of Ornithology. According to many of their students, their passion, dedication and commitment to the course is another reason why Field Bio is so special.
“Ask any Field Bio student, past or present, and they’re bound to tell you that Paul and Marc truly make the class as great as it is. They go above and beyond to create impactful and memorable experiences for their students, and to expose them to as many tools and techniques as possible,” said Kathryn Cooke ’20, a course undergraduate teaching assistant and former Field Biology student.
The course does not follow the typical prelim and final schedule; instead, students have several species identification quizzes scattered throughout the course of the semester. For these exams, students often roam the Cornell Botanical Gardens, identifying different types of trees.
Students are also expected to memorize species of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles.
The course also has two required field trips. One of them is a weekend camping trip to Arnot Forest, where students go on tree walks and learn about herpetology, stream ecology and birds.
Students also engage in interactive activities including handling snakes and reptiles, birdwatching and donning chest-high waders in search of stream insects.
The other field trip is a single-day expedition to Lake Oneida, a lake located near Syracuse. At Oneida, students take turns doing different hands-on activities related to aquatic fisheries. During that trip, students look at different types of zooplankton while out on the boat of Prof. Lars Rudstam, natural resources. The field trips are meant to engage and inspire students outside of the classroom through hands-on learning.
Additionally, throughout the semester, students conduct their own, student-designed research projects on an environmental science topic of interest ranging from leaf color morphology to forest ecology.
“[One of] my favorite parts about field bio is helping students connect with the research project. Students I have helped with their individual projects learn what it takes a ask a research question and design an experiment to answer it,” Wade Simmons ’12 grad said.
Since Field Bio is only offered to sophomore environmental and sustainability science majors, the course provides an opportunity for students within their year and major to connect with one another.
“The course is one of the few courses at Cornell, at least that I’ve encountered, which allows you to meet the majority of your graduating class within your major. There’s a lot of collaboration and group-learning that goes on in the course,” Cooke said.
Through these hands-on learning activities, collaboration is encouraged and gives students the opportunity to spend quality time together.
“I think the practical component to the course is what makes it very special, using really different parts of the brain, manipulating, and seeing the natural world in a greater context,” Simmons said.