1999 Sigma Xi Forum

Reshaping Undergraduate Science and Engineering Education: Tools for Better Learning

November 4-5, 1999, Hyatt Regency, Minneapolis, MN

Immersing Ourselves: Integrating GIS and Inquiry-Based Learning for Regional Water Quality Assessment at Colby College

Philip J. Nyhus, Environmental Science Program, Colby College, Waterville, Maine 04901

David H. Firmage, and F. Russell Cole, Dept. Biology, Colby College, Waterville, Maine 04901



Geographic Information Systems and other spatial technologies are increasingly becoming cornerstones of environmental science research. We describe our experiences integrating GIS and water quality assessment techniques to provide real-world research experiences for senior students in the "Problems in Environmental Science" capstone course in environmental science at Colby College. This course is unique in that student research is based on requests from local lake associations, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and other municipal and local organizations. Students function as hired consultants and are grouped into teams to work on various aspects of the study. A GIS is used to integrate information about land use patterns in relation to lake water quality using data about land use and land cover types, soils, zoning and development, shoreline residential areas, topography, and other relevant information. The maps generated (including septic and logging suitability) are then used along with lake water quality data collected from the field to develop a summary of lake and watershed characteristics. A phosphorus model is constructed using the information generated in order to make projections of water quality with possible future changes in land use. Students also develop a lake remediation plan in conjunction with state and local authorities. A final report is presented in a public forum at the end of the semester. This inquiry-based service learning experience provides students with invaluable "real-world" skills and experiences while supplying an important service to local communities.


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