College students know that volunteering in their chosen career field will improve chances of finding that elusive full-time position after graduation. However, school, work and family can create conflicts that deter students from forming those valuable volunteer relationships. It can be a challenge to juggle commitments and still find time to work on a project that is unpaid and often unrelated to current coursework, even if the reward would be great.
Understanding the need for students to gain real-world experience before graduating, Dr. Tammie Gerke and Dr. Ziying Jiang, both professors at Miami University Middletown, Ohio, collaborated with Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Samantha Bachelder to come up with a program in which students could earn experience while fulfilling course requirements.
Ultimately, the team found a way to integrate students into a program that would count as their final project for an upper-level geography course on Geographic Information Systems. For the class, students must work with a professor or outside agency to complete a GIS project.
“Students were instructed to treat the project like they would a job given to them by a client,” explained Bachelder. “They completed the project based on a timeline decided between the client and themselves, and also had to set up meetings and give presentations to the client to better understand the importance of good communication and to get feedback on their projects.”
At the beginning of the semester, Bachelder met with the professors to map out possible GIS projects that students could take on for the Corps of Engineers at Caesar Creek Lake. Students were given a list of projects and had the option to choose one based on their interests. Two students chose to work on projects with the Corps; Miami University Middletown’s Geology Club took on another.
“This program helps the students in the course and also allows other groups like the Geology Club to get involved,” said Bachelder. “Students from geology and environmental majors are able to be a part of a service project without having to make the big commitment of a solo endeavor.”
The spring semester 2017 projects included mapping of the vegetation type density in the Hopewell Prairie, mapping the Caesar Creek Lake bridle trails, and the mapping and geological analysis of the Caesar Creek Lake emergency spillway.
During the semester, students had meetings with Corps staff, communicated their progress, and then presented their final projects to the Corps in April. Representatives from Miami University also attended the presentations.
“The students did a phenomenal job on their projects,” said Bachelder. “They presented relevant, well-organized information to the Corps, which can be used toward bettering visitor assistance, assisting with natural resource projects or increasing our understanding of potential risk factors during a flood event. The program provides an excellent opportunity for students to gain real world experience while also contributing valuable data to a federal land agency.”
The partnership program will continue into the fall semester with projects already in the works at both Caesar Creek Lake and William H. Harsha Lake.