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Students in Geography Field Seminar Course
Head to Graduate School Well Prepared

RELEASED: May 12, 2008

geography students in New Zealand
UW-Eau Claire geography students hiked in New Zealand's Mount Cook National Park along the Hooker Glacier trail during a mid-March research trip as part of a field seminar capstone class. Pictured, left to right, are Bryan Vickroy, Chris Below, Beth Ellison, Adam Rubach, Jackie Ebert, Pat Dryer and Todd Wermager. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Harry Jol)

EAU CLAIRE —Several UW-Eau Claire geography students who participated in Dr. Harry Jol's spring semester field seminar capstone class have received full scholarships to attend graduate school in the fall.

The class traveled in mid-March to New Zealand, where students used their research skills to complete an investigative group project and to complete individual topical research papers. Jol, who previously conducted research in New Zealand during a sabbatical, knows the area well and arranged for the students to collaborate on the research with Dr. David Nobes from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

Students using ground penetrating radar during New Zealand research trip
UW-Eau Claire geography capstone class participants used ground penetrating radar to image the subsurface of South Brighton Spit in Christchurch, New Zealand. (UW-Eau Claire photo by Harry Jol)

Jol's students acknowledged it is unusual for undergraduates to have the opportunity to travel and conduct research internationally as part of a class project.

"It was an amazing experience," said senior Jackie Ebert. "Our trip was truly unique in that we were afforded the opportunity to use our knowledge overseas in an environment that was strange to us.

"I talk to many other geography students that attend other schools and they don't have one-quarter the experience that I have attained from this department," Ebert said. "I believe that attending UW-Eau Claire afforded me opportunities that I would not have been able to receive elsewhere."

Ebert has received a full scholarship and graduate assistant position with a living stipend at Missouri State University, where she will pursue a master's degree in geospatial sciences beginning this fall. Patrick Dryer, one of the other students who went to New Zealand, received the same scholarship package from Missouri State, but first he will travel to Alaska this summer to serve as a conservation geographic information science intern for the Alaska Conservation Foundation.
Jol said the students spent the first part of the capstone class in seminar, going through several texts and papers to hone their research techniques. Then the students worked individually on research papers about topics they identified from their readings. For example, Ebert's individual paper was titled "How Markets in Venison Meat and Parts and the Game Farming of Red Deer Jeopardizes Conservation on the South Island, New Zealand." Dryer's project was "The Franz Josef Glacier: A History of Advance and Retreat."

While in New Zealand, class participants used ground penetrating radar to image the subsurface of a barrier spit (a coastal barrier that extends into open water and is attached to the mainland at only one end). The project had two parts, the first dealing with data collection and processes and the second dealing with the local coastal processes and data interpretation. After returning from New Zealand, the students prepared posters and presented their research at UW-Eau Claire's annual Student Research Day in April.

The students also produced a Web site detailing their New Zealand experience and a video documenting the field seminar.

Jol said he believes in making capstone experiences as "hands on" as possible so the students leave UW-Eau Claire with real skills in addition to theoretical knowledge.

Class participant Elizabeth Ellison agreed that getting into the field and seeing what is being studied is a much different experience than learning about processes and landscapes in the classroom.

"New Zealand has much to offer for a physical geographer, and the capstone experience was worth every penny," said Ellison, who also has received a full scholarship to graduate school at Miami University in Ohio. Her capstone project was titled "The Changing Waikato River: Evidence from the Taupo Eruption and Its Aftermath."

Jol said he believes national and international capstone field seminars provide experiential learning opportunities that students remember for the rest of their lives.

"I have students from past field seminars regularly contacting me and noting how the class was one of their most significant educational experiences at UW-Eau Claire," Jol said.



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