Conservation of Natural Resources: Using the Campus as a Learning Laboratory

Jill Whitman, Rose McKenney
Department of Geosciences, Pacific Lutheran University


Conservation of Natural Resources: Using the Campus as a Learning Laboratory is a course in which we examine the interactions between humans and the rest of the natural world from an environmental science perspective, using our campus as a laboratory to investigate our personal, community and societal impacts. The course applies the scientific method, scientific evidence, and scientific theories to assess the environmental impact of human activities, both as individuals and as communities. In the course we evaluate strategies to reduce this impact by considering scientific, economic political and social factors.

Course Size:

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory level semester-long course, with no pre-requisites. This course is designed for two primary audiences: students completing one of the science General Education Requirements and students exploring the Environmental Studies program. This course counts a multidisciplinary course for the Environmental Studies minor or major. The course has a required lab.

Course Content:

The course is structured around four major questions:
- How do we, individually and collectively, fit into the global ecosystem?
- How do we feed the world's population?
- How do we supply clean drinking water for the world's population?
- How do we meet the world's energy needs?
We wrestle with these complex and difficult questions throughout the semester, examining how to meet these goals without seriously impairing the natural systems. Inherent in each of these larger questions are many levels of additional questions. As we discuss these environmental issues, we explore the information that we need to know to begin to answer these questions and we will emphasize the role that science plays.

We use the campus as a laboratory to investigate our personal, community and societal impacts. Within this context we look at the latitude individuals have to make decisions that are sustainable without compromising their health & well being and without altering their lifestyle.

Course Goals:

This class will prepare students to:
- Practice the scientific method including skills of questioning, observation, description, data collection, data interpretation, synthesis, and communication.
- Apply the fundamental principles of geologic and environmental sciences through comprehensive examination of environmental issues.
- Assess the environmental impacts of human activities and evaluate strategies designed to minimize these impacts.
- Employ quantitative and qualitative analytical tools such as maps and graphs to evaluate and discuss environmental issues.
- Engage in collaborative activities around environmental issues with your peers.
- Communicate scientific findings and interpretation clearly and concisely.
- See connection between daily choices and environmental impacts

Course Features:

This course is structured to have lecture/discussion/classroom activity meetings three times a week for the entire class and lab section each week for each half of the class. Throughout the semester there are exams, lab assignments each week, various in-class or out of class assignments, and the Lifestyle Project. In the semester-long Lifestyle Project, students examine the impact of their life on the environment, evaluate potential changes they can make to it, and reflect on the role of personal choices, societal infrastructure, and personal relationships on making changes.
Lab activities vary from looking at resource use on campus (water used on campus grounds, garbage audit) to a drawing exercise to illustrate the flow of energy and matter through ecosystems.


Students are assessed on:
Campus Gounds & Irrigation (Acrobat (PDF) 73kB Dec14 11)
Campus Water Budget (Acrobat (PDF) 154kB Dec14 11)
Ecosystems and flow of matter (Acrobat (PDF) 91kB Dec14 11)
Waste and Recycling on Campus (Acrobat (PDF) 153kB Dec14 11)
The Lifestyle Project journal & reflection paper
Lifestyle Project assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 138kB Dec14 11)
Lifestyle Project baseline data collection (Acrobat (PDF) 120kB Dec14 11)
Lifestyle Project baseline data analysis (Acrobat (PDF) 137kB Dec14 11)
Short in-class worksheets and homework
Participation and attendance


This is a 4 credit introductory course offered to undergraduates and is taught on the semester system.
Conservation of Natural Resources syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 31kB Jun16 11)

References and Notes:

Lab Materials
Materials for the Grounds lab (Microsoft Word 20kB Dec14 11)
Soil reference guide for the Grounds lab (Acrobat (PDF) 231kB Dec14 11)