Delving into the North Woods: Part 2

Located on the edge of campus, the Northwoods welcomes all students. PHOTO CREDIT: Stella Muller | Contributing Reporter

Although the Northwoods on campus is open to the public as well as students, how often do people actually utilize the natural space? 

The Natural Resource Science Department at URI (NRS) uses the woods as a method of teaching, not only to get students interested in being outdoors, but to also teach valuable lessons when it comes to hands-on learning. 

“You can write enough stuff down on a piece of paper as you want,” Jayden Messier, a senior studying Wildlife and Conservation Biology, said. “But as soon as you actually go outside and do the techniques, that’s when you actually learn how to do stuff.” 

Messier has taken a handful of classes that he says utilizes the Northwoods in their curriculum. These classes include Wildlife Biology (NRS 305), Wetland Ecology (NRS 423) and Invasive Species (NRS 445). He said that almost all of the field classes he has been enrolled in use the rural woods as “an experiential learning resource.” 

With around 300 acres of native deciduous forest, classes are really able to use the woods to their advantage towards the course they are teaching. For students such as Emily MacDonald, a fourth-year student studying Environmental Science and Management, the woods have also become a place of relaxation from her busy schedule. 

“I feel comfortable just going out into the woods because I feel like I’ve spent enough time in there to like know exactly where I am and what’s going on.” McDonald said.

She said that she is grateful for her NRS classes exposing her to the woods during her studies because she wouldn’t know the value this natural space has on her own. 

The woods are also important for mental health, McDonald mentioned, because the natural ecosystem allows individuals to connect with nature within a protected space. 

“I just feel like there’s so much opportunity to do more, like independent learning,” McDonald said. “And so it’s definitely something that should be preserved.” 

Some other classes that utilize the Northwoods include, but are not limited to, Field Ornithology (NRS 304),  Restoration Ecology (NRS 401), Wetland Wildlife Management (NRS 406) and Mammalogy (NRS 324) and Forest Science (NRS 301).

 However, there are classes that students can take that don’t require you to be a NRS major here at URI. Classes such as NRS100, or Natural Resource Conservation, give students the opportunity to recognize the impact humans have on their environment through natural resources such as land, water and air. 

There are also new classes being offered that are taking a different approach towards using the Northwoods, such as BES521, which is called Rhetorical Field Methods for Science Communication. The class showcases how technology throughout history has shaped our methods of communication. 

“We’re thinking about how space and place can transform the way we think about science communication,” said Madison Jones, an assistant professor in the departments of NRS and writing and rhetoric. “So when we think about things like climate change, we’re always thinking about this very big and very faraway object, and it can lead to local communities having a really hard time with understanding those impacts on them. This class is thinking about how spatial theory can help us rethink some of those dynamics.” 

Jones is looking to use the Northwoods within this class to have students focus their work they’re doing in a “theoretical realm.” The class will create a website that can be treated as an app, where people can access digital images and content of the woods on their phone. 

The app will use geolocation to have various markers pop up for the user, such as park signs to draw more people towards being comfortable with using the woods to their advantage. 

A goal for the class, according to Jones, is to have the smaller version of the project reach a wide audience within the URI community, so more professors have the ability to teach with the natural space and people are able to enjoy it. 

“Another thing is that, you know, I really want to get students using the Northwoods just for recreation,” Jones said. “Because it’s a wonderful space that I think not enough people really know about.’” 

Stay tuned for the next update on the North Woods in the Good Five Cent Cigar.