June 04, 2010

An interdisciplinary program will explore all aspects of the Susquehanna River watershed.

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The winding Susquehanna River will be the classroom setting for a new program starting this fall at Bucknell University.

Eleven students are registered for Bucknell on the Susquehanna, a semester-long, four-credit interdisciplinary course that will cover the river's natural history, river and watershed science, land use and management and cultural history. Thoroughly unique, the Susquehanna River program is the first of its kind.

The domestic study-abroad program will combine classroom experience with extensive field research each week along the Susquehanna, the longest non-navigable river in North America. The program also will include a two-week field trip to the Pacific Northwest for comparative watershed studies and analyses.

Lead faculty
Matthew McTammany, associate professor of biology and environmental studies, Craig Kochel, professor of geology, and Peter Wilshusen, associate professor of environmental studies, are the lead faculty on the program, which is funded by a grant from Henry Luce Foundation.

"In addition to being field‐based, the program is largely experiential so that students will study the scientific and social dimensions of issues like river and stream contamination from natural gas drilling, gather data to respond to research questions, analyze the data, and produce policy-oriented lab reports," said McTammany.

The class is planning trips to cover the entire length of the watershed — from the headwaters in Cooperstown, N.Y., to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia.

Pacific Northwest
"We are also planning an excursion to northern California and the Pacific Northwest for comparative watershed studies on the Sacramento River-San Francisco Bay watershed and the Puget Sound," said McTammany.

In addition, two students — Joanna Freeman, Class of '12, and David Manthos, Class of '11 — will share their experiences through writing and photography in a new blog, Bucknell on the Susquehanna, starting this summer and continuing through the fall. Freeman is an environmental studies major. Manthos is majoring in geography.

"The idea is to use the entire Susquehanna River basin as an outdoor classroom," said Kochel. "The program is designed so that course content is integrated with each of the three faculty members contributing key perspectives on environmental issues during class sessions."

Field excursions
Typically, program participants will meet in the classroom or field on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Day-long field excursions are planned for each Thursday with several multi-day river kayak excursions scheduled throughout the semester, depending on weather and river conditions. Fridays will be used to work on independent study projects related to the program.

The river is a fascinating environment for study immersion, said Wilshusen.

"The Susquehanna River is one of the most valuable resources in the mid-Atlantic region," he said. "It serves as the major freshwater source to North America's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, and it houses some of the world's most unique geology and ecology in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains."

Separately, Bucknell is working on a facility that will help students to better connect with all that the Susquehanna River has to offer.

Bucknell Landing, a canoe and kayak launch, is being built on a 4-plus-acre property adjacent to the river. The dock facility is under construction and expected to be completed by the start of the fall semester.

Contact: Division of Communications