Ferrum College Professors Receive Grant from National Science Foundation

Ferrum College Professors Bob Pohlad and Carolyn Thomas

Ferrum College Professors Bob Pohlad and Carolyn Thomas

Bob Pohlad and Carolyn Thomas will share in $494,980 to study
climate change with students.

Ferrum, Va. - Ferrum College professors Bob Pohlad and Carolyn Thomas are part of a team that will receive $494,980 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for environmental research related to climate change. The money will be used to establish a national ecological and education network that will begin with 12 primarily undergraduate institutions or PUIs and expand to colleges and universities throughout the United States. The work has been shown to be significant both in terms of tracking environmental issues, and increased student learning and understanding.

The EREN will develop collaborative research projects focused on regional to continental-scale ecological issues, engage students in authentic science while teaching them basic ecology, create a continental-scale ecology course module using research data that will be team-taught by scientist-educators from the participating institutions, and establish an online database of collaborative data sets collected during the project. The EREN also will encourage scientists at PUIs to participate in existing research networks, such as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).

“It’s unusual for undergraduate students to be able to do this kind of research,” said Thomas. “It’s important to point out that students at Ferrum College and the 11 other PUIs, will be out in the woods and wading streams — taking measurements, studying wildlife, and learning how to use the data.” Thomas explained that the data is combined with research from other institutions, so scientists can measure changes over time.

Pohlad and Thomas are co-authors of the grant, which will be coordinated by Laurel Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of botany-microbiology at Ohio Wesleyan University. Other co-authors include: Tracy Gartner, Ph.D. (Carthage College, WI), Karen Kuers, Ph.D. (Sewanee: The University of the South, TN), Erin Lindquist, Ph.D. (Meredith College, NC), Jose-Luis Machado, Ph.D. (Swarthmore College, PA), and Jeffrey Simmons, Ph.D. (Mount St. Mary’s University, MD).

The EREN project began in 2009 as the result of an earlier NSF grant. “Our undergraduate students will be studying everything from the rates of leaf decomposition, to carbon storage in trees, to the spread of invasive plants, to phenology — the times of the year when climate patterns impact trees and animals,” said Pohlad. The students would be taking data on aspects such as tree growth and when insects, reptiles and other animals become active in the spring or dormant in the winter, he said. “The data will be added to a national data base from the other participating colleges, and we can then begin to track patterns which can be linked to changes in the climate,” he said. All of the research would be conducted in the Ferrum Mountain Creek Watershed, which includes much of the Ferrum College campus.

This watershed was developed as a study site for previous grants to Pohlad and Thomas from the Mellon Foundation and NSF as part of the Appalachian College Association project, CAWS (Collaboration through Appalachian Watershed Studies). The money from the grant is structured so that each participating college will receive the amount needed to cover their own research, reporting, and analysis. “It’s difficult to assess a specific amount for Ferrum College or any of the schools,” explained Thomas. “What’s important is that we’ve received enough money to proceed with the project, and that students will be learning, while the world gains a clearer picture of what’s happening around us.”

About Ferrum College: Ferrum College is a four-year, private, co-educational, liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Ferrum offers a choice of nationally recognized bachelor’s degree programs at a cost well below the national average for private colleges.

About the National Science Foundation: Based in Arlington, Va., the National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense. …” With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion, the NSF provides funding for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.

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