Digging In

TA=Teaching Adventure
by Zachary Brecheisen -- December 9th, 2013

New lecturer and Duke grad, Dr. Cagle teaching students some new trees out in Duke Forest.

New lecturer and Duke grad, Dr. Cagel teaching students some new trees out in Duke Forest.

Professor Dan Richter demonstrating the use of BAF 10 prisms for the forestry students

Professor Dan Richter demonstrating the use of BAF 10 prisms for the forestry students

This first semester here at Duke has been extremely eventful with coursework, fellowship applications, trips, and the never ending work that comes with being a home owner. The things I’ve gained from all of this greatly outweigh any inconvenience and stress brought on however. One thing that made it all much easier to manage was getting out into the forest twice a week TA-ing Env 701, Forest Measurements.

Students learning about the aptly-named umbrella Magnolia. A good tree to stand under if its raining!

Students learning about the aptly-named umbrella Magnolia. A good tree to stand under if its raining!

In this class students (and new TA’s) learn to identify dozens of trees found in North Carolina while exploring Duke Forest, Duke Gardens, and various wooded areas around Duke Campus. In addition to ID’ing trees and woody plants, students learn a variety of forestry techniques for measuring tree height, tree diameter, stand basal area, the number of board feet in a tree, and many other techniques with a variety of tools.

Teamwork can certainly make coring trees easier!

Teamwork certainly makes some things easier!

Counting tree rings in cores and other analysis can tell a us a lot about a tree and the forest its growing in.

Counting tree rings in cores and other analysis can tell a us a lot about a tree and the forest its growing in.

Sadie spotted this snake and caught it for us all to get a better look at!

Sadie spotted this snake and caught it for us all to get a better look at!

Obviously we can’t quite have the entire course outdoors, though it comes closer to this than most classes.
There is a lecture component before most field activities where students learn some forestry history, plant physiology, and two-week exercise learning some GIS basics.

Grading can certainly be a little rough! At least I have some forest souvenirs to look at (and review).

Grading can certainly be a little rough! At least I have some forest souvenirs to look at (and review).

The breadth of forestry topics covered is certainly impressive, especially considering that we managed to cover 131 woody plant species this semester.

A slithery little guy we found out in the field. Nicky (Dr. Cagle) has a soft spot for reptiles and was happy to see it out and about.

A slithery little guy we found out in the field. Nicky (Dr. Cagle) has a soft spot for reptiles and was happy to see it out and about.

Forest critters come in all shapes and sizes. This lizard was camouflaged quite well in the tree bark.

Forest critters come in all shapes and sizes. This lizard was camouflaged quite well in the tree bark.

We all learned a thing or two from this very successful hunter about the deer management program in the Duke Forest. Deer populations have skyrocketed, damaging and modifying forests. Hunters like this can be an effective way to minimize and prevent deer grazing from damaging forests.

We all learned a thing or two from this very successful hunter about the deer management program in the Duke Forest. Deer populations have skyrocketed, damaging and modifying forests. Hunters like this can be an effective way to minimize and prevent deer grazing from damaging forests.

This large female preying mantis was probably looking for a good place to deposit her eggs. She's a beaut!

This large female preying mantis was probably looking for a good place to deposit her eggs. She’s a beaut!

I had as much to learn in the course as many of the students did as I’ve just moved from the Chihuahuan desert scrubland (not a whole lotta trees around) and I was very impressed by the work ethic of the students, all of whom were pursuing Masters Degrees. While grading homework, quizzes, and exams was at times stressful, and I often found it challenging trying to help coordinate various field activities, the things I learned and the friends I made in the process more than made up for the grey hairs I probably developed.

We learn about the below-ground forest too! Soils, Dr. Richter's specialty, are the foundation upon which forests grow and cannot be ignored. Here students are learning about weathering and hydrological processes.

We learn about the below-ground forest too! Soils, Dr. Richter’s specialty, are the foundation upon which forests grow and cannot be ignored. Here students are learning about weathering and hydrological processes.

Plus, I got to be outside in the beautiful forest around Duke twice a week for several hours!

Seeing the wildlife, getting more familiar with the area around campus, and working with the professors to create a great learning experience was extremely rewarding.

While part of me won’t miss piling into and driving students out and around, I will definitely miss the great group of students we had this year.

 

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