Most courses follow a community-based learning model. More opportunities to engage with the local environment in Richmond can be found at the Center for Civic Engagement’s Environment webpage.
Geography is the study of why things are where they are. Physical geography is an interdisciplinary science that brings together elements of climatology, hydrology, oceanography, geology, geomorphology, biology, and ecology to understand (1) the spatial aspects of the environment and (2) the processes responsible for creating these patterns.
This course introduces the characteristics and interrelationships of the Earth’s climates, landforms, soils, and natural vegetation, with special emphasis on human relationships with their environment. A geographic approach emphasizes interconnectedness and spatial components of these relationships. The subject matter is particularly relevant to current scientific interest in global climate change. The course is divided into five units: (1) concepts and tools of physical geography, (2) the atmosphere, (3) the hydrosphere, (4) the lithosphere and pedosphere, and (5) the biosphere. We take a systems perspective and emphasize linkages between the Earth’s systems.
Next taught: Fall 2017
The course has three primary objectives: (1) to provide students with an introduction to physical geography by thinking about scale, connectivity and boundaries, (2) to exercise and hone skills of critical observation, and (3) to connect the theory learned in class to the practice of natural resource management in the local community.
These goals are accomplished by getting out of the classroom and getting first-hand exposure to the people and environments that define the resource challenges and opportunities within the James River watershed. The course begins with a field trip on the river in which initial impressions of the region’s natural resources will be made. These impressions are deconstructed in class as part of the core lecture material. During the rest of the semester we work with a local practitioner on projects related to conservation in the watershed. These independent projects vary from year to year. For example, in one year the class worked with the James River Park System on projects including improved mapping of the park and treatment of invasive plants in the park. Local experts on the watershed also participate in the course as guest lecturers. A final project ties together the lecture and field-based components of the course.
Next taught: Fall 2018
Landscape ecology is an applied science that focuses on the development, consquences and management of environmental patterns. These patterns include the spatial distributions of species and the environment resources upon which they depend. Although the focus is typically on relatively large landscape units, careful attention is paid to the importance of scale in natural resource management. Because nearly all of the earth’s landscapes have been altered by human activities for some time, landscape ecology also emphasized the role of humans in the environment. The goal of this course is to give students a firm grasp of the concepts of landscape ecology and how these concepts can be applied to enhance the effectiveness of environmental policy, assessment and management.
The course uses a combination of lectures, discussions, homework assignments, and special projects to study topics including: fragmentation and land-use change; characteristic spatial and temporal scales of ecological processes; methods for describing spatial variability in the physical and biological environment; the role of disturbance in shaping environmental patterns; and the applications of landscape ecology to monitoring, conservation and restoration (with special emphasis on human-modified environments).
Next taught: Spring 2017
This class focuses on the approaches, key concepts, and methods of environmental modeling. Understanding the relationships between spatial gradients (e.g., between the distributions of species abundance and temperature) is essential to predicting responses to environmental changes such as those predicted under global warming scenarios. We begin with a discussion of the challenges inherent to describing environmental systems quantitatively. These issues will be revisited throughout the semester and will help guide our class assignments. The remainder of the course is divided into four units, each focusing on a different environmental system: soil nutrients, climatic, hydrologic and biotic. A modeling approach is introduced and different types of conceptual, statistical and simulation models are used to explore the different systems. Class exercises are developed for well-studied Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in the southeast and northwest United States. The final project requires the development of a spatial distribution model based on tools learned in the course.
How do we balance competing demands for our nation’s most precious natural resources? Many of our protected lands in the United States were set aside because of their natural beauty but also because they were viewed as lands of minimal value for development. Yet, there has always been a tension between goals of conservation for future generations and the current use of resources on these lands. We explore the spatial distribution of natural resources in the west and the potential conflict among different stakeholders to extract and conserve these resources. Course goals are accomplished through a combination of five in-depth case studies and first-hand exposure to the people and environments that define the debate.
In this Sophomore Scholars in Residence course, a case study approach is used to consider issues of water demand, forestry, energy development, food production, and mining. Local field trips to the James River Park System and Richmond National Battlefield are used to form initial impressions of the challenges confronting responsible natural resource stewardship. During a fall break trip, we visit different types of public lands along a 10,000-foot elevation transect from Las Vegas, Nevada to Yosemite National Park, California. The class concludes with client-based independent study projects in the spring semester.