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College Garners $5K Grant to Replant Outlet Trail

Dr. Bill Brown and Emily Bower '18 will collaborate on a project to remove wild parsnip from the Yates County Outlet Trail.

From Penn Yan to Dresden, the 7-mile Outlet Trail beckons anyone wishing to enjoy the beauty of nature while walking, riding horseback, bicycling, hiking, or traversing mid-winter on snowshoes or cross-country skis. The scenic trail now popular with artists and photographers once served as an old right-of-way for a former railroad connecting Keuka and Seneca Lakes.

Despite its natural beauty, the trail harbors something unpleasant —an infestation of wild parsnip, which can blister human skin when sap from its leaves, stems, flowers or fruit is exposed to sunlight. So it’s ideal that Keuka College recently won a $4,999 grant to remove large patches of wild parsnip along the trail and replace it with two native flowering plant species —turtlehead and joe-pye weed.

Wild Parsnip, the plant which will be removed from the Outlet Trail through this project.

The project, which was funded through the Finger Lakes Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), headquartered at the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, will begin June 1 and will serve a dual purpose as a Keuka College Field Period™ research project for rising sophomore Emily Bower ’18. Under the guidance of Dr. Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science at Keuka College and Emily Staychock, an invasive species educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County, Bower will dig out large sections of wild parsnip at the roots and then replant the same areas with the two native flowering species. To protect the new plants from disturbance by deer, they will be fenced with 6-foot high “page wire,” Brown said.

Emily Bower '18 and Dr. Bill Brown along the Outlet Trail

Digital learning is a new objective for Keuka College and is being woven into the curriculum and its signature Field Period™ program. As such, Bower’s Field Period™ will also contain a digital component: assisting Staychock in creation of a GPS-based map and database documenting locations of many invasive plant species along the trail including honeysuckle, Japanese knotweed, spotted knapweed, Tree of Heaven, and common buckthorn. Bower and Staychock will use iMap to plot locations of the invasive plants for further monitoring or later removal by others.

“All my friends walk the trail and visit the waterfalls, so having the opportunity to help something we use all the time is wonderful and it’s also great to give back to the community,” Bower said. “I’ve always been interested in doing research and having a research project. My family has a small farm and they’ve had to deal with invasive plant species so gaining more experience in that area will help.”

Bower said she was eager to conduct her second Field Period™ this summer because she plans to conduct most within the medical field, to reach her goal of becoming a pediatrician. Since she plans to submit applications to grad schools such as UNC-Charlotte and Syracuse Upstate Medical University in her junior year, she wants to finish as many of her four required Field Period™ experiences before then as she can.

“This [one] was different,” she described, adding that the outdoor setting, summer housing and financial stipend to complete the Field Period™ project added to its appeal. “I couldn’t say no.”

Bower added that she’s hoping to glean as much as she can from working with Dr. Brown and also to confirm her choice to focus on a bio-medical concentration during her undergraduate years, versus going into research or another area, such as botany.

Joe-Pye Weed in flower, image courtesy WikiMedia

“The hands-on experience is really what interests me, and it’s where I learn the best,” Bower said. “110 percent of the reason why I came to Keuka is for the Field Period™ [program] and the small school atmosphere.”

As the wild parsnip is removed during the project, the three scientists will be studying whether the new plantings of turtlehead and joe-pye weed will “suppress future growth of wild parsnip, and we’ll see if they attract more pollinators, and therefore increase local butterfly populations,” Brown said.

The turtlehead plant, image courtesy WikiMedia

“I chose the turtlehead on purpose because the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly requires it for part of its life cycle. The adults will nectar on the flowers, eggs will hatch on the leaves, then the caterpillars will eat the leaves as they develop on the plant,” Brown said. Other butterflies that could be attracted to the new plants also include the Great Spangled Fritillary and the Silver-spotted Skipper, he said.

After Bower’s Field Period™ concludes, Brown and volunteer members of the Friends of the Outlet Trail organization will continue to monitor the new plantings to assess the long-term effect on the trail’s plant life and butterfly populations, “probably for the next few years,” he said.

Faculty Development Committee Honors 3

By Mary Leet ’16

The Faculty Development Committee recognizes faculty for excellence in experiential learning, teaching, and academic achievement through an awards program. All three awards include a $500 prize. Here is a capsule look at the 2012-13 recipients:

Excellence in Experiential Learning Award: Dr. Patricia Pulver
The Excellence in Experiential Learning Award goes to a faculty member that has demonstrated an effective practice or activity that allows students to learn through their experiences.

And that is precisely what Dr. Patricia Pulver, professor of education, does through her Master Teacher Insight Project.

Pulver believes that by observing teachers in the classroom, then discussing relevant issues and reflecting on their actions, students gather first-hand knowledge and experience that shapes them into effective teachers “a lot faster than reading textbooks.”

In addition to observing current teachers teaching, students conduct four separate interviews over the course of a semester with a teacher they know and consider a “master teacher.” Students discuss what came out of the interviews with classmates and then compose a reflective paper that summarizes what they learned.

They must identify common themes and provide “specific illustrative examples.”

Through this project, “students are able to articulate what they learned about the process and any ‘take away’ strategies that they might utilize in their future classroom,” said Pulver.

Excellence in Teaching Award: Dr. Christopher Leahy

While the traditional history lecture is still important, “students learn history best— and enjoy it more— when they actually do what historians do,” said Assistant Professor of History Dr. Christopher Leahy.

Leahy employs the historical method to teach all his classes, effectively turning what can otherwise be a dry subject into a discipline that requires critical reading, logical thinking, and persuasive and effective writing.

Students respond enthusiastically to this unique approach, calling Leahy “interesting,” “captivating,” and “the best professor I have ever had.” Shelby Seeley ‘13 noted that “Dr. Leahy is a teacher who can make even the most tedious topics interesting and intriguing.” “His classes are the ones that the students are truly excited to take,” according to Diane DePrez ‘13. “It has often been said… that it is a sad semester when you don’t have a Leahy class.”

By using primary sources and working with students to interpret them, Leahy’s students say that he makes history accessible and understandable on a relevant level.

“[He] always strives to give his students a deeper understanding not just that an event happened, but how it happened, why it had to happen, what brought it about, and what might have happened if it never did occur,” said Josh Beaver ’13..

Excellence in Academic Achievement Award: Dr. William Brown

Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. William Brown isn’t hesitant to involve students in research or have them present at professional conferences.

Recently, Brown presented a poster with collaborators from Kutztown University using data that had almost entirely been generated by students in his biostatistics classes.

Brown attended the annual meeting of the Rochester Academy of Science last fall, accompanied by undergraduates Kelsey Morgan ’15 and Amber De Jong ’16. Morgan presented her research at that meeting, and De Jong recently completed a research project of her own, “Temporal Changes in Red-shouldered Hawk Morphology,” which she will present at the 2013 meeting of the Rochester Academy of Science this fall.

In January 2012, a peer-reviewed paper composed by Janelle Davidson ’12, Brown, and ecologist Marion Zuefle was published in The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, the leading peer-reviewed journal on the science of animal welfare. Titled “Effects of Phenotypic Characteristics on the Length of Stay of Dogs at Two No Kill Animal Shelters,” it has been read more than 800 times, making it the most-read paper published in the journal.

Beyond 9 – 5

Carol Sackett and two of her paintings, "Still Waters," left and "Sunrise," right.

By day, Penn Yan resident Carol Sackett manages the circulation desk at Lightner Library, a post she has held for 32 years. But through March 7, visitors to Keuka College can glimpse a different side of her, as seen in three oil paintings gracing the walls of Lightner Gallery.

Sackett’s paintings are on display alongside numerous other works from members of Keuka’s faculty and staff, whose job titles may not necessarily disclose the individuals as creative “artists-in-residence.”

Beyond 9 to 5: The Hidden Talents of Keuka’s Faculty and Staff runs through March 7 in Lightner Gallery,located in Lightner Library. It features  a range of artistic mediums, including painting, photography, ceramics, glass work, digital art, and film.  More than 20 faculty and staff members submitted work for the show, including President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera.

During a special artists’ reception – open to the public – Thursday, Feb. 21 from 4:30 – 6 p.m., the exhibit will also feature select culinary art from four members of the faculty and staff. The exhibit remains open daily during library hours, available online at:

Hand-painted glass by Doreen Hovey


A Bird in the Hand …

Newborn nestlings (All Photos by Hung Do Le '12)

Like most expectant parents or relatives, the wait for “D-day,” the day of delivery, is a torturous enterprise. But once the little one is safely arrived and nestled down for naps and feedings, the crowing begins.

So it is for the students in Keuka’s ornithology class and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science, Bill Brown, who have been keeping close watch on several nestboxes Brown placed along the outer perimeter of the campus, near the treeline beyond Davis Hall and the Red Barn Theatre. The nestboxes, which look like simple birdhouses to the untrained eye, are large enough for birds that prefer to live in cavities such as tree trunks to build a nest inside.

The nestbox of the Black-capped chickadees.

It has been a long wait, marred when eight of nine “active” nests of Eastern bluebirds and Black-capped chickadees were destroyed by house wrens and house sparrows, whose habit is to kick out any eggs already laid in a nest in order to take it over and lay eggs of their own. But one chickadee nest escaped the ravages of the migratory menaces, and that nestbox is the ultimate destination for Brown’s class on this, the final day of the outdoor lab for ENV/BIO 331.

Before paying a visit to the home of the new nestlings, the scientific term for baby birds recently hatched, the class stops at one additional box, where a house wren has begun to lay new eggs – three so far – after returning to the area in the last week or so.

Carefully unscrewing one side of the box, Brown reveals the wren’s nest, made primarily of twigs, with soft grasses, bluejay feathers and hair lining the inside. Fishing around with his hand, he pulls out three tiny pink-toned eggs.

Nest and eggs of a tree swallow.


Eyes (and Ears) Wide Open

Senior Jason Troutman references a list of bird species in Keuka's ornithology field lab, taught by Dr. Bill Brown, at right. (All photos by Brett Williams).

Bundled warm in hoodies against the morning chill at Keuka Lake State Park, the students are standing still, listening intently. From the branches of trees nearby come chirps, calls and sing-song melodies, rising over the sound of the waves lapping the shore.

“What do you hear?” asks Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science, who holds a Ph.D. and specializes in ornithology, the study of birds. Binoculars hang suspended from the students’ necks, but Brown wants them to listen first.

Seniors Steve Stout and Justin Henry record bird species they've identified during an outdoor field lab.

Pencils poised over palm-size waterproof notepads, the handful of students lower their heads and jot down four-letter codes for different species as they respond with the names: Mourning dove. American robin. Cardinal. Canada goose. Carolina wren. Downy woodpecker. [Eastern] Pheobe. House finch.

This is ENV/BIO 331, Keuka’s ornithology class, where one of Brown’s primary objectives is teaching students to master identification of some 104 different species of birds by sight. Thirty-nine of those species must also be identified by sound. And those are just the birds found here in New York state.

According to Brown, almost 90 percent of “birding” is done by ear; the rest comes from knowing what to expect in a given setting, whether that may be a small cluster of trees near a building, along a road, or deep in a forest fragment. (more…)