By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — CHAZY — A revolutionary environmental science program at SUNY Plattsburgh that was started 40 years ago graduated 21 students Friday.
It’s called the Applied Environmental Science Program, and it exists as a partnership between the college and William H. Miner Agricultural Institute.
In the program, upperclassmen majoring in environmental science at SUNY Plattsburgh spend a residential semester at Miner Institute in Chazy. The curriculum combines classroom and hands-on experience taught in a day-long format.
The five courses offered are wildlife ecology and management, hydrogeology, water-quality modeling, introduction to soil science, and agriculture and the environment.
“The Applied Environmental Science Program is successful because it extends beyond the classroom walls,” Joseph Thouin said Friday at a ceremony at the Joseph C. Burke Education and Research Center, which is named after a past president of Plattsburgh State and Miner Institute Board of Trustees chairman.
Thouin is an alumnus of the program, who graduated 10 years ago upon completion of four undergraduate research projects.
“The knowledge and skills that I acquired in this program were essential in my graduate studies and remain a part of the active skill set I use in my profession today,” said Thouin, who holds a master’s degree in hydrology from Dartmouth College and works for the Lake George Park Commission.
In his address at the ceremony, Burke illustrated the importance of learning by doing.
Years ago, when he was driving with his wife in northern Kentucky, he didn’t recognize tobacco, the crop that his master’s thesis was based on, he said.
Students spoke of how their hands-on learning will stay with them for years to come.
“Every class I’ve ever taken here is very intense,” said SUNY Plattsburgh senior Michelle Berrus.
The combination of field work and classroom time is “the best of both worlds,” she said.
But the program isn’t just limited to that. Students learn to conduct research while they’re in the field and then develop their writing skills by assembling and organizing their thoughts in a format similar to academic-journal articles, Berrus said. After graduation, Berrus plans to spend a year doing field work and then pursue a master’s degree in ecology.
“Any professor can stand in front of a class and explain how a dissolved oxygen profile in a river looks on paper, but here at Miner we’re thrown out into the river and told to prove it,” said Brian Drollette, a senior environmental science major who will graduate in May.
Dr. Robert Fuller, director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science and a professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, outlined the history of the Applied Environmental Science Program, which began in the 1970s.
The fall of 1972 marked the first semester of the fully implemented environmental science program at Miner Center, Fuller said. It was then called the Institute for Man and the Environment.
The academic program was named residential research semester, and it was a degree requirement for all environmental science majors.
More than 600 students participated in the program between 1972 and 1984, Fuller said.
Notable alumni of the program from that time include Dr. Jim Bonner, professor of environmental engineering and a dean at Clarkson University; Jill Caporale, environmental science instructor at Northern Virginia Community College; and Dan Fitts, former executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency and current executive director of the Adirondack Research Consortium.
In the early 1980s, the program was restructured to include increased emphasis on long-term projects as part of the labs in the five courses offered at Miner.
“Our students are self-selected,” Fuller said, looking out at the program graduates at the ceremony. “They’re willing to do something new and different that may be difficult but is rewarding.”
The program’s success thus far speaks to the likelihood it will continue to enrich the studies of environmental science students well into the future, Drollette said.
“I can imagine it will go 40 more” years and beyond.
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