The Great Outdoor Classroom
On a snowy day in March, a group of students set out from the St. Paul campus for a day of fieldwork in Wisconsin. All seven of them are in Advanced Forest Management, a class for upper divisional students to synthesize their knowledge and skills in order to develop a forest management plan. This would be the first of several trips to see their site, located near Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The property owner, Don Mueller, ‘67, has signed a use agreement with the University for research and teaching purposes on his 160 acres of upland hardwood forest. He met the students on his four-wheeler at the turn to access his property. “These are some of the best red oaks you’ll find,” said Don. After showing them the entrance to the trails, Don left the group of juniors and seniors to set out to find their first plot. “We plan to use the day to practice collecting data before we cruise the actual plots on our next visit,” said Lane Moser, a senior in Forest and Natural Resource Management.
The ungroomed trails were still covered in 18 inches of snow on their visit to Don’s property, so students had to “post-hole” their way along the trail to find their plots. “I thought about bringing my snowshoes,” said one of the students. “I looked at them on the way out the door, and thought, I don’t need those.”
All seven students completed their first plot together, conferring with each other to confirm site characteristics like plot size, understory cover, and tree heights, before splitting up to complete the remaining practice plots. From the outset of the class, students were tasked with defining their own goals for their site and creating their own sampling design. Among other learning outcomes on the course syllabus, students learned “to understand how silvicultural treatments can influence stand structure and composition and how these changes influence timber quantity and quality, forest health, biodiversity, soil, and wildlife habitat.”
What makes the class unique is that it allows students a high degree of independence and problem-solving that is only afforded if there is enough time for them to make mistakes and correct them. This is the intention of the course design. “The students develop the whole plan. If a problem arises, it’s up to them to solve it. I see students evolve from being frustrated about roadblocks in the project to becoming incredibly proud of their work as a team,” said Assistant Professor Marcella Windmuller-Campione, the course instructor.
The course learning objectives span the whole process of writing a forest management plan, namely “to understand how silviculture is influenced by broader social, economic, and ecological issues.” We are grateful to our donors, like Don Mueller, who make these kind of learning opportunities available to our students.