June 1, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
On a hot and humid spring day, Laura Zaunbrecher walked through Atlanta's past to learn more about the environment today.
The Georgia State doctoral student meandered down paths amid the rows of the historic Oakland Cemetery looking for clues about how the weather has worn away the elaborate mausoleums, sculptures and headstones there, where the prominent and the poor alike were laid to rest.
Carefully, she and her groupmates, Imani Morris and Leslie Garcia, took rulers to some of the tombstones dating from the mid-1800s, placing them into the etchings of dates to see how much the city's rains - which have become increasingly acidic as pollution has increased over the years - have worn away granite and marble.
It was all a part of a Maymester field course that gave students a hands-on experience not far from GSU's front doors. "Before this, I pretty much considered myself a laboratory geologist," Zaunbrecher said. "Now I'm in the field, learning how to take measurements rather than just being in a lab and using the equipment there."
Students mostly stayed in the metro Atlanta area, from the cemetery just two MARTA rail stops from the heart of downtown, to Stone Mountain and the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. One outside trip was made to Providence Canyon State Park in south Georgia.
"There are things that you think you that you wouldn't be doing at such an urban school like Georgia State, since it's right in the middle of Atlanta," Zaunbrecher said.
In that day's field excursion, students measured the depth of the engraved letters and numbers on the tombstones. By using the year of the tombstone, they were able to determine the rate of chemical weathering.
By gathering data in the field, students were able to better absorb concepts taught in the classroom, said assistant professor Jordan Clayton.
"We spend a lot of time in earth processes courses talking about how things work, but we spend very little time making measurements in the field," Clayton said.
The Department of Geosciences also offers another annual field course each summer, where associate professor Hassan Babaie leads students through the landscapes of Montana. Together, they study the rolling badlands, columns of basalt that resembles fingers, and the legacies of ancient glaciers that helped to shape the Montana landscape over millions of years.
Additionally, the graduate students of lecturer Leslie Edwards' Geography 8050 course, an environmental issues class, during the spring semester teamed up with Sweetwater Creek State Park to produce a wide variety of information that is being used to further conservation efforts.
Students there created a draft management plan; a comprehensive geographic information system with a wide range of information, from soils and watershed information to vegetation and historic sites; Google Earth applications; and detailed reports about different environmental features of the park.
"Allowing the students to learn what is involved in the acquisition of data is a critically important part of the learning process of not just how data is acquired, but truly understanding what the data means," Clayton said.