November 2, 2006

Luce Program: Students Study in Chesapeake and Mississippi

Do you want to spend a semester studying watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay and Mississippi River regions? The Luce semester, offered through the Environmental Sciences department, is spent in these two regions and on field trips to study ecosystems and the relationship between them and the local communities.

This program is funded through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, and the semester will be offered during the Fall semesters of 2005, 2006 and 2007. Between 15 and 20 are chosen for the program. The semester takes the place of a normal 4 course load for each student. According to the Luce website, the semester combines “classroom activities, community-based fieldwork research, independent study, and extensive travel and immersion in two comparative watershed regions: the Chesapeake Bay and the lower Mississippi River Basin.” Since the semester takes the place of four courses, the program focuses on a variety of areas, including aquatic science, environmental justice, coastal geomorphology, resource-dependent communities, and environmental policy and management.

Students spend one week in the Chesapeake Bay region and three weeks in Louisiana in the Mississippi River estuary region. The first week in the Chesapeake Bay occurs in September and the Louisiana section takes place in November. The remaining eight weeks are spent studying the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed on campus, but with several planned all day field trips.

One of the main goals of the program is to “expose students to the cultural contexts in which environmental problems are created and in which solutions are conceived and implemented.” This was no exception for last year’s Luce program, which visited Louisiana right after Hurricane Katrina. Stephanie Hair ’O9 described the experience. “Hurricane Katrina was a big aspect of our class…Seeing the hurricane damage first hand had the most impact on me. We walked through a retirement home in New Orleans where the first floor was completely destroyed and covered by mold and the second floor looked almost untouched.” Hair also explained that “Pictures don’t do it justice, but I took them anyway so that I could attempt to show people what was going on.”

One of the most important issues that the program pointed out to Hair was wetland loss. This was something that really enforced the importance of this program to Hair because “The things we learned about in class from books and pictures were the things that we were doing on our trips…Wetland loss was one of the issues we discussed in the classroom, but when we were touring Grand Isle, we saw telephone poles that were 10-15 feet from the edge of the road surrounded by water. Our guide that day, Kerry St. Pé, informed us that these same telephone poles were 5 feet inland 5 years ago. Wetland loss was right there in front of us.”

Brendan Hughes ’08 will be taking the Luce semester next year. He looks forward to “some great [Environmental Science] classes and field trips that I wouldn't normally get to experience at Dickinson unless I was abroad.” He also hopes to “learn a lot about watersheds and also how environmental changes impact the local communities by seeing it firsthand in Louisiana.” Hughes looks forward to visiting Louisiana.

Hair found it interesting how much the Luce program affected her classes when she returned to a regular semester schedule. “I was able to share about what I saw during the Luce Semester and relate it to what we were discussing. The program didn’t influence the courses I chose to take, but it did give me a good idea of what I could do once I graduate. I highly recommend this program to anyone who is thinking about participating. It is a once in a lifetime experience.”