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PSS Spring '09 - The Houghton House Renaissance

From Theory to Practice

HWS students put their education to work

ON THE ROAD AND IN THE FIELD

"Out in the field, the work becomes real?tangible
instead of just theoretical-and you're constantly thinking about it, constantly doing it. It was more than a job." -Bryan McCorkle '11, Vortex2 project

"Out in the field, the work becomes real-tangible
instead of just theoretical-and you're constantly thinking
about it, constantly doing it. It was more than a job."
-Bryan McCorkle '11, Vortex2 project

While summer research on a résumé can speak to application reviewers, the research itself lets students "really become immersed in the work," says Assistant Professor of Geoscience Jeffrey Frame. "Being in the field with top researchers forces students to learn and retain more."

Joining other leading scientists in geoscience and meteorology, Frame and student-researcher Bryan McCorkle '11 got the "more" that field research affords-in this case, chasing answers by chasing tornados.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and billed as the largest fully mobile experiment ever attempted, the VORTEX2 project employed more than 100 scientists from dozens of university, college and government labs to track storms and gather data with the goal of better understanding tornado formation to improve warnings and reaction time.

Traveling from the Dakotas to Texas and from Eastern Colorado to Iowa, Frame and McCorkle represented Hobart and William Smith as the only liberal arts institution on the project.

"The best way to learn about meteorological phenomena is by seeing it," Frame says. "The support from the Provost's Office and the Environmental Research Fund at HWS allowed us to do that-and bring with us the unique perspective of a liberal arts school with a robust summer research program."

Along with the scientific and humanitarian benefits of VORTEX2, the project also gave McCorkle the experience of a lifetime as a science student.

"It was a really exciting trip," says McCorkle. "We were trying, but you can't always predict Mother Nature. Out in the field, the work becomes real-tangible instead of just theoretical- and you're constantly thinking about it, constantly doing it. It was more than a job."

"Bryan is not only well-qualified as a science student, but he is also very enthusiastic," Frame says. "He knew that this was not just a storm-chasing trip; there were distinct scientific goals. He was able to experience and see storms and tornados, allowing the subject matter to come out of the textbook and the classroom."

And this, says Nearpass, is important in shaping not only students' career goals but in fostering the skills they need to achieve those goals. "Summer research further motivates students based on their interests," she says. "Skills learned in the lab and in the field-skills of analysis, communication, research-further extend students' areas of excellence."

Smack dab in the drop zone of flying terns, elizabeth zinser '10 and Bob Taylor '11 banded
chicks with project pufin of the coast of maine .

Smack dab in the drop zone of flying terns, elizabeth zinser '10 and
Bob Taylor '11 banded chicks with project pufin of the coast of maine .

This summer Bob Taylor '11, a biology and environmental studies double-major, landed a summer internship with Project Puffin, living on islands 20 miles off the coast of Maine as he researched puffin populations and their feeding habits to help restore and conserve the bird population.

Although he already intended to major in biology when he came to HWS, Taylor's interest in birds was sparked by his first-year seminar- "Bird Obsession: Beauty of the Beast" -taught by Deutschlander, who advised Taylor to look into Project Puffin, which, since 1973, has been run in coordination with the Audubon Society.

In 2004, Stephen W. Kress P'07, P'10, director of the Seabird Restoration Program and vice president for bird conservation of the National Audubon Society, spoke at HWS' Finger Lakes Institute and struck up a friendship with Deutschlander. HWS interns have been working with the project ever since.

"Without exception, I have been pleased with the caliber of HWS students," says Kress. "Their coursework is relevant, and they have proven to be very motivated and committed to this field biology experience."

"Our students have done well there, and they get invited back," Deutschlander says. "It's a great way to see the hardships and rewards and figure out if this is the field for them."

Kress says that students who want to become professionals in the field of conservation biology and wildlife management should have practical experiences. "Becoming part of a successful conservation program is the best way to know that people can make a positive difference for wildlife," he says. "Many of the students who participate in our internships decide to pursue careers in biology and conservation."

"It was pretty awesome spending most of my summer on the islands," says Taylor, who ultimately hopes to conduct his own research. "I guess I've become kind of a bird nerd, but I'm okay with that."