Laird Publishes on Geo Field Studies – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Laird Publishes on Geo Field Studies

An article by Associate Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird was recently published in the January issue of In the Trenches magazine, a publication of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. The article features GEO 299, the Geoscience Field Studies course at HWS, and describes how the department has incorporated atmospheric science projects into the course during several of its offerings. The magazine’s cover features a photo of HWS students Zack Dameron ’16 and Katie Lehmann ’14 flying a kite to collect atmospheric data along the beaches of the Central Oregon Coast, taken during the 2013 Geoscience Field Studies course (photo above).

“The Department of Geoscience at HWS offers the field-based undergraduate course to provide a learning opportunity with an immersion, hands-on approach. The course incorporates projects focused on weather, climate, hydrology, geology, or a combination of topics,” says Laird.

“The atmospheric science components were developed to include field experiences and projects that examine both weather and climate and focus on two overarching questions: (1) What types of landscape features are influenced directly by atmospheric conditions? and (2) What atmospheric conditions are influenced directly by the landscape?”

Laird then provides examples of how atmospheric science was integrated into GEO299 to explore linkages to geology and hydrology. He cites numerous excursions throughout Oregon during which students used large, airfoil kites to lift hand-held auto recording weather stations to heights of roughly 250 meters, as well as how students and faculty exploring the geology of Oregon strapped hand-held auto-recording stations to their backpacks.

He indicates the course has been successful and provides some background information for other educators who may be interested in creating a similar experience.

“Often students look for opportunities to compartmentalize information. GEO299, an integrated field experience, seems to force students from their comfort zones and challenge them in a new way. Most students have been excited by the challenge of trying to understand what the data for different locations and different days tell them about the local geology, hydrology, meteorology, and climate,” says Laird. “Additionally, students who focused on one area of geoscience (e.g., geology) before participating in GEO299 have gained a better understanding and appreciation for other complementary areas of geoscience beyond the requirement to complete introductory courses in geology, hydrogeology, and meteorology.”

At HWS, Laird maintains an active research program involving undergraduate students with funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for projects that are collaborative with several research scientists and National Weather Service Forecast Offices around the United States. He was an editor for the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, a publication of the American Meteorological Society, from 2010-2011 and prior to that had been an associate editor of the journal since 2004. He has also been a long-time member of several scholarly associations including Sigma Xi, American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and the Council on Undergraduate Research.

Laird earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.S. in meteorology from the State University of New York at Oswego. Before joining the faculty at HWS in 2004, he taught for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a research scientist at the Illinois State Water Survey for nine years.