Over the course of the week that I spent in the Sierras with Headwaters Science Institute, I was challenged to explore my own surroundings, make conjectures based upon observations of the natural world and assimilate a self-guided study while working with my peers. This is not to say, however, that we did not also have ample direction and guidance from our patient and knowledgeable Headwater Science Institute directors, the experience was just so different from what one normally receives in a classroom because of the fact that it was largely up to us to run our work.
On our first day of the trip, we hiked a ways into the alluring, snow-bound forest around our lodge with snowshoes on to begin exploring our surroundings and gathering information with which to build our research projects on. We looked at many different things; layers of crust in the snow, moss formations on the surrounding trees, depth of snow in varying areas, the difference between pine and fir trees. After we explored for a while, we returned to the lodge and began brainstorming ideas for possible research projects. Working in teams of 3-5, along with the help of the Headwater Science Institute directors, we were able to settle on a question which each group member had adequate interest in. This part of the experience was especially intriguing for me because as a student, I rarely have the chance to truly create a project based around something that I observe in my world and am interested in.
My group and I decided to research human’s effect on snow, specifically looking for pollutants levels in the snow taken from different areas with varying amounts of human contact. As you can imagine, the following days were a flurry of trekking to surrounding areas, digging through many feet of snow, taking many samples, melting countless cups of snow, measuring and recording. All of the Headwater Science Institute directors were impressively knowledgeable on basically any science related question that we asked them, and helped to motivate us during times of low energy for our research. During the following week that I spent in the Sierras, I learned more about good leadership and learning to work well with others than I could have ever learned in a classroom. By the end of the week, every group had done large amounts of research along with an equal amount of data gathering and analysis.
While my own group’s results were somewhat inconclusive, it has opened the door to further possible research and evaluation, and given me confidence in my classmates and my own strong ability to conduct and direct a self-made research project. The multitude of positive memories of that came from my week-long stay with Headwaters Science Institute will stay with me for many years to come, and I cannot thank Spencer, Mary-Ellen, and Meg enough for giving me the opportunity to explore the world I live in to a greater extent than I could in any other setting.
-Lucy Edelen, Green Fields School, Tucson, AZ