Research at the Harvard Forest—Global Change Ecology-Forests, Ecosystem Function, the Future
Instructor: David Orwig | Course ID:112349 | Term: Fall
Harvard first-year students who take the “Research at the Harvard Forest-Global Change Ecology-Forests, Ecosystem Function, the Future” course take four weekend field trips to Harvard Forest to conduct field research. Their work culminates in a symposium where students present on their research topics. The course immerses students in an active field research setting and allows for extended small group discussions with leading global change scientists at one of the preeminent field research sites in the United States. In the interview that follows, Professor David Orwig, who teaches the course, discusses its purpose and importance, and the most rewarding part about this unique learning experience.
Could you please briefly describe what the course is about?
The course allows students to explore first-hand current research and practices for understanding and addressing climate and global change. Students spend four weekends at the Harvard Forest, Harvard’s 4,000-acre out laboratory and classroom, exploring some of the world’s oldest field-based climate experiments, discussing the human dimensions of these phenomena, and interacting with scientists and other climate practitioners, including science communicators and local Indigenous leaders. Students learn about the critical role that forests play in a changing climate, with in-depth discussions about specific topics, such as carbon dioxide emissions, invasive species, and forecasting the future with ecological data.
Why was this course created, or why did you decide to teach it?
I have been associated with the course for 20 years and love interacting with students. The course builds on lessons learned from decades of students coming to Harvard Forest, making it one of the longest running Freshman seminar courses that has been honed to align with what students are most interested in exploring. The current emphasis is on first-year students understanding the importance of human land-use history, climate change, and global change drivers on forests in Harvard’s backyard, how they may change in the future, and what levers are important in improving that future.
What do you hope students will learn by taking this course?
My goal is to get students excited about forests and ecology, and to build their literacy and sense of empowerment in understanding ecological concepts related to global change, climate justice, and the science behind current predictions for future climate scenarios. I hope that the concepts they learn here will inform their appreciation for forest ecosystems, how they function, the important role they play in combatting climate change, and the vital role of human decision-making in determining their future.
What is your favorite part about teaching this course?
The best part of the course is the immersive field trip component to Harvard Forest. We spend hours together in the field, getting first-hand experience learning about forests, hearing from staff scientists and other practitioners, visiting experiments, and collecting data. This format enables extensive informal discussion and allows students to see how climate change impacts are assessed and predicted through modeling, and what impacts they have on communities.
Why do you feel that this course is an important offering for undergraduate students?
I feel that no matter what field of study students want to eventually concentrate on, an understanding of forest ecosystems, how they function and contribute to global nutrient cycles and how people may be affected by a changing climate is key to effective stewardship of the planet and decision-making in solving environmental challenges.
Learn more about “Research at the Harvard Forest-Global Change Ecology-Forests, Ecosystem Function, the Future” through the Harvard Course Catalogue.