This is a summary for the 2021 summer ecology courses of SIPA
This is a summary for the 2021 summer ecology courses of SIPA
After more than a year of mostly virtual learning, students in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program in Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) finally gathered in New York City for summer courses in ecology. A great advantage of in-person teaching for ecology classes is the open-air labs and interactive field trips that allow students to gain hands-on learning experiences and explore the surrounding environment. surrounds them while discussing what they observe with their classmates, teachers and teaching assistants (TAs). In the summer of 2021, the Principles of Ecology and Urban Ecology course, students did just that. The experience was enriched by lectures given by Dr. Matthew Palmer, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, as well as selected readings, group discussions and report writing that allowed students to explore important environmental issues.
Principles of ecology
To identify solutions to the main environmental problems that impact human society, it is essential to understand ecological processes and their evolution over time, from the individual level to people and ecosystems. In this course, students learned about the interactions between organisms, as well as how organisms interact with their abiotic environment, taking into account the spatial and temporal dynamics of these interactions. Drawing on this information, students explored the practical applications of ecological understanding on a local and global scale.
Topics covered in the course ranged from ecosystem ecology to the evolution of pesticide resistance to the biology of (responses of organisms to) climate change. Students gained experience studying community effects of introduced species and learned essential skills such as life table analysis, which summarizes demographic statistics of the population and allows biologists to make predictions about the probability and timing of population growth or decline based on survival and reproduction patterns.
In addition to the time spent working in groups on lab reports, students spent time at the start of each lab in group discussions. During these discussions, small groups of students each represented the position of a stakeholder in a chosen environmental problem. The students integrated the ecological knowledge acquired in the lectures with information from background reading materials provided before the discussions to collaboratively prepare an argument on behalf of their stakeholder position. Finally, the groups engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue, presenting their group’s point of view and listening to others’ points of view on the topic. Topics included: 1. the benefits and risks of transgenic crops 2. the challenges associated with urban food systems 3. ecotourism as a means of conserving mountain gorillas in Africa 4. restoring wetland ecosystems and mangrove conservation in Sri Lanka, and 5. introduced species management, particularly how to deal with the effects of feral cats on native wildlife in Hawaii. Stakeholders for different topics included groups such as non-profit organizations, NGOs, small farmers, large-scale agribusinesses, local business owners, wildlife conservation organizations, conservation organizations. sustainability, human rights advocates, local community members (both high and low income), animal rights groups, pharmaceutical companies and developers. Students carefully considered both the ecological and social dimensions of each problem, with the ultimate goal of arriving at an understanding of the complexity of these problems and, ideally, consensus on the best way forward to resolve the problem. Students took on the challenge of balancing many competing interests and practiced taking a nuanced approach to considering vastly different perspectives when approaching environmental issues.
After spending the first half of the summer developing a solid understanding of the biology of organisms and their interactions, and building on that understanding to discuss approaches to environmental problems, the Urban Ecology course enabled students to students to focus on how this knowledge can be applied to resource management in urban settings, such as here in New York. Lectures, class discussions, and readings on applied ecology, conservation biology, and sustainable development allowed students to examine how economic and social factors interact with policies to shape development decisions for them. urban environments.
For students, a favorite part of the urban ecology course this summer was the field trip. The class visited the Fountain Avenue Landfill Restoration Site (in Shirley Chisholm State Park) near Jamaica Bay to attend presentations by land managers from the New Environmental Protection Department. York and New York State Parks. The students then walked a trail around the landfill restoration site. The students, along with Dr. Palmer, technical assistants and liaison officers, also explored Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and met with environmentalists from the New York Department of Parks and the Department of Environmental Conservation of New York State to learn more about several projects including wetland restoration, reforestation and urban forest management. The students summarized what they learned on this trip by writing essays on restoring urban ecosystems in which they refer to their observations to discuss potential solutions to the challenges facing urban land managers and communities. restoration practitioners.
The grand finale of the Urban Ecology Summer Course was the presentation by the students of their final city projects. Groups of students presented an analysis of human-environment interactions in a city of their choice, i.e. how urban ecology influences the lives of human beings in cities and how humans in turn modify their environment. From Mumbai to Reykjavik via Sao Paulo and San Francisco, students presented their reviews of how landscapes shape development, resource availability, interactions with wildlife, human health, and human behavior. During these presentations, the students demonstrated everything they had learned over the summer and shared their in-depth knowledge with each other.
If you would like to know more about the MPA-ESP program, please contact the Deputy Director, Stephanie Hoyt ([email protected]) or attend one of our next information sessions.
ESP website: https://www.mpaenvironment.ei.columbia.edu/curriculum