Capstone Experience Brings Students Full Circle

June 16, 2016
ENR 4900.02 students and instructors at The Ohio State University - Mansfield. Photo by Sarah Rose.
ENR 4900.02 is a senior-level capstone course aimed at integrating the ideas, concepts and tools learned throughout a student’s academic coursework, culminating in an immersive experiential learning opportunity aimed to put that knowledge to work. Students in the course work together as part of an interdisciplinary team to identify and analyze natural resource problems that arise in practice and develop a final technical report and presentation that highlights the focus of their team’s project.
Projects this year focused on linking forest health to soil quality, documenting pollinator habitat within right-of-ways (gas and electric lines crossing the campus), assessing stakeholder use and preferences regarding trails, and determining which nocturnal wildlife are present on campus, including echo-locating bats with equipment generously supplied by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
This year’s offering of the course is co-led by Alia Dietsch, assistant professor in SENR; Gabriel Karns, post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in SENR; and Daniel Yaussy, lecturer in SENR.
“Whenever I’m asked for recommendations of a student by potential employers, they always ask how the student performs as part of a team and what his or her individual strengths and weaknesses are,” said co-instructor Dietsch.
“This course showcases these kinds of attributes. Students come full circle, taking what they’ve learned across the curriculum over several years to address a question posed by a land manager in the form of a project – with a very short timeline. We work with students 5 days a week for almost 4 weeks, giving us a truly unique perspective on who they are and how well they may perform on the job. Some students shine during this hands-on experience, and we get to see their eyes light up when they put into practice what they have learned,” Dietsch said.
The course is taught during the first summer session and utilizes The Ohio State University-Mansfield campus as the project area for students to perform natural resource inventories and develop management plans.
“It’s hard to quantify just how vital the capstone course is to our students.  For a student to see how all the moving parts of their academic career coalesce within this single immersive experience, it’s often that ‘Ah ha!’ moment that propels them into their future – very much a passing from student to young professional sort of moment.  That capstone course takes place in such a diverse property as the Mansfield campus, that’s just the icing on the cake,” Karns remarked.
“With vernal pools, plantation woodlands, forb-rich rights-of-way, 150 year old-plus forests, and more, the outdoor classroom is literally 10 steps away from the chalkboard.  For student and instructors alike, it’s a learning and teaching environment that is tough to top!”