A novel component of the second generation of ZEN includes a formal integration of undergraduate education and involvement in the ZEN program. In spring 2014, we launched a coordinated upper division undergraduate Seagrass Ecosystem Ecology course at each of the three core ZEN sites: College of William & Mary, San Diego State University, and the University of California, Davis. The course focused on ecological theory and hands on training in marine ecology.
Dr. Emmett Duffy and graduate student teaching assistant Jon Lefcheck instructed a group of 8 students at WM, Dr. Kevin Hovel and graduate student Erin Voigt taught 6 students at SDSU, and Dr. Jay Stachowicz and Dr. Pamela Reynolds co-taught another 12 students at UC Davis. Pamela developed the syllabi and curricula across institutions to meet core student learning goals and objectives. We incorporated lectures and readings of the primary literature with field trips and student-led surveys and experiments. Each course topic and experiment in the course corresponded to a main theme and goal of ZEN – from top-down/bottom-up ecology and biodiversity ecosystem functioning to experimental design and habitat restoration. In an immersion instruction style, students performed research typical in marine ecology, working both indoors and outdoors, with living organisms, under a wide variety of conditions. The students gave presentations both within their own class and, via teleconferencing, to the other ZEN classes. The course gave students a rigorous background in not only the “why” behind the science and a sense of the history of the field, but also the “how” of doing the science itself. With such small class sizes we were fortunate to be able to engage the students in this active learning style and to really connect with and get to know them. Success in the class was assessed by the students’ ability not to simply memorize facts, but to apply the core concepts of the course to design novel approaches and problem solve both individually and as a team. In summer 2014, a subset of the students participated in our “ZENternship” program, traveling to ZEN partner sites in the USA and abroad to assist with the ongoing ZEN research. Read more about the course and the student travels on the ZEN blog. We hope that additional ZEN partners will engage with similar networked courses in the future and further strengthen the connections among our diverse partnership.