Instructor Laurine Ford leads students to Nebraska on experiential learning trip
Laurine Ford, an instructor in the Biology department at Inver Hills Community College, took five student volunteers to Nebraska over spring break, March 7–13, 2015, to work with the Crane Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving habitat for whooping cranes, bison, sandhill cranes and other wildlife. The students got hands-on experience doing field work and getting behind-the-scenes views of how a nature center operates.
The trip is a 1-credit course Laurine teaches called Spring Break Biology. Laurine has taken several trips to the Crane Trust; this was her fourth with students. “The course focuses on understanding a particular ecosystem and how humans affect that system,” she said. “We stayed in a dormitory at the Crane Trust during the peak of the sandhill crane migration.”
About 650,000 sandhill cranes pass through the Central Flyway, stopping to roost on the Platte River on their way to breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia. People from all over the world come to watch them.
Students on Spring Break Biology
While staying at the Crane Trust, the biology students had a number of jobs to do. They monitored a new herd of 40 bison brought in to help manage the trust’s grasslands. They scouted nearby federal waterfowl production areas to assess drought conditions, finding only one with standing water. Laurine pointed out that the Platte River has dropped to 20 percent of its original flow. Severe drought conditions continue to shrink wetlands, condensing migratory bird populations and presenting tremendous dangers from disease.
All photos courtesy of Crane Operators on Facebook
“The students also got the chance to lead tours of visitors,” Laurine said, adding that Jane Goodall brings groups to the Crane Trust to see the astonishing flocks of cranes and other birds, including 5 million snow geese. In fact, Goodall’s photographer was staying in the dormitory while the Inver Hills group was there. Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the Clyde Sachtleben Observatory at nearby Hastings College.
“This was our best trip ever,” Laurine said. “The weather was excellent and we had good chemistry between the students.”