James Madison University

ISAT Students Learn by Doing

Posted: December 16, 2013

PHOTO: JMU Students plant treesRecently Professor Robert Whitescarver taught his students an unusual lesson - how to plant a tree. On Saturday, November 16, Whitescarver, attended a tree-planting event along with Robert Jennings, Grassroots Field Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who organized the event.

About 35 volunteers including students from ISAT 424 and GEOG 342, helped plant over 600 hardwood trees along Dry Branch in Rockingham County. Several professional planters including Conservation Services were also on hand.

Whitescaver, an adjunct professor at JMU, teaches Natural Resource Management, a course that focuses on how resource management decisions affect the human and natural communities involved. Whitescaver also maintains a consulting business in addition to teaching.

PHOTO: JMU Students plant treesAccording to Whitescarver, “One of the best things we can do for our environment is planting native hardwood trees.”

At the event, Whitescarver pointed out how the trees provided soil stability for the banks, shade, and energy for the water, and buffered the stream from adjacent land uses.

“This event came about because I am familiar with the property and the owners recently entered into a contract with USDA to remove cattle from the stream and plant a riparian forest buffer along the stream to improve water quality and wildlife habitat,” Whitescarver said.

The students found this activity reinforced their classroom experiences. ISAT student, Dave DiPascale, (’14) said, “I learned the proper way to plant a tree. It is more than just putting a tree in the ground, it requires a lot of care with the shelter and the mat that had to be placed around the shelter to keep the grass from competing with the tree growth.” DiPascale added, “I learned how annoying rocks in the ground can be for planting trees that are right under the surface.”

ISAT student Connor Gray, (’14) found it useful to learn how to practically complete projects they learned about in the classroom. They had studied riparian buffers and open space easements, both of which were components of this project.

PHOTO: JMU Students plant treesDiPascale explained, “Riparian buffers are needed to help absorb excess nutrients from entering streams that eventually make their way into lager bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay. We are learning how sources such as water are natural resources, and although they are natural, they require proper use and management for other generations to use.”

According to Jennings, activities like this teach students because of the hands-on, ‘real world’ educational component to the event.

“It's one thing to read about issues like this in a class, or watch a video.  It really leaves a deeper, more lasting impression on the students when they're actually doing what they've learned about in class,” Jennings said.


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