Science on the Connecticut Coast: Investigations of an Urbanized Shoreline

Vincent Breslin, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, and James Tait, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut

Science on the Connecticut Coast is course that fulfills the laboratory science requirement for non-science majors in the Honors College at Southern Connecticut State University. The course addresses key environmental questions, including: How have past harbor sediment contamination affected the quality of New Haven Harbor ecosystems? How can we assess hurricane preparedness and potential impact? What are the potential consequences of climate change on Connecticut residents and how can the emission of greenhouse gasses be minimized? The semester-long course has four modules. A geology module focuses on the geologic formation of the Connecticut coast and requires students to master identification and interpretation of basic rock types geologic structures. In the coastal processes module students explore local marshes and beaches and work with survey data to map the environmental and economic impact of a severe hurricane on the region. A coastal pollution module examines the industrial history of New Haven and culminates in a study of sediment metal contamination in New Haven harbor. Working as a group, they plan and execute a research cruise to obtain sediment samples, which they record and analyze. The final module addresses climate change and requires students to predict potential impact on the Connecticut coast, including sea level rise and possible effects on living resources in Long Island Sound. Results of the HON 270 analyses have contributed to a GIS data base of sediment metal analyses in New Haven harbor and have been presented at regional Long Island Sound Research Conferences.

Course Learning Goals

This course is designed to teach science by pursuing the following goals:

  1. Doing science using scientific methodology,
  2. Emphasizing field experience,
  3. Conducting quantitative analyses,
  4. Writing for clarification of thinking and communication of ideas, and
  5. Stressing the societal relevance of scientific investigation.

Specific Goals and Objectives

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Use the scientific method to examine questions concerning their observations of the coastal environment, including the formulation of
    testable hypotheses and the collection of field and laboratory data to evaluate their hypotheses,
  2. Recognize and discuss the unique aspects (geological, biological, and chemical) of inland and coastal habitats including sandy beaches, salt marshes and coastal dunes,
  3. Identify and quantify specific sources, fates and impacts of pollutants (primarily metals and floatable debris) entering coastal waters, and
  4. Identify the causes and consequences of global climate change, including the social, economic and environmental impacts due to hypothesized increased storminess and coastal flooding.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Why is this course a SENCER model?

Honors 270 teaches environmental science through a multitude of issues associated with living on a densely populated, low-lying shoreline with a history of industrial development that goes back to the 1700s. The civic issues are broadly divided into three groups: natural hazards, anthropogenic impacts, and potential impacts of climate change.

Hurricane Preparedness

An important civic issue facing Connecticut relates to hurricane preparedness. Connecticut has not experienced a Category 3 or larger storm in 70 years and few citizens of the state have direct experience of the destructive force of a large hurricane. In fact, Connecticut has over 400 billion dollars of insured property in coastal areas, one of the highest values in the nation. Connecticut population densities are focused along the coast in large cities and along the Connecticut River, and both areas would be prone to flooding during a strong storm.

How prepared is Connecticut for a major hurricane? In our course there is a major focus on the potential impacts of a repeat occurrence of the 1938 hurricane. This storm assaulted the coast with a 14-18 foot storm tide, 15-foot waves, winds up to 90 mph, and copious rainfall. The impacts of this storm included the confirmed deaths of 682 people across the New England region with another 1500 people missing; the loss of homes for 4,000 people due to flooding; and the greatest amount of destruction in U.S. history until the advent of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. What would be the comparable impacts today from such a storm? Storm impacts include not only loss of life and coastal structures but also beach and wetland loss via erosion and degradation. Students examine threatened coastal environments and survey elevation changes along coastal roads to observe threatened coastal habitats and properties.

Harbor Sediment Contamination

Connecticut has a rich industrial history and current and past human activities have resulted in the contamination of harbor and Long Island Sound sediments with metals of environmental concern. One of our course modules examines the industrial history of New Haven harbor by contrasting the economic uses of the harbor with the natural environments that exist within the harbor. New Haven harbor receives contaminants via tributary rivers, treated effluents from industry and municipal wastewater, storm water runoff from highways and parking lots,
atmospheric deposition from automobiles and coastal fossil-fuel power plants, and discharges from shipping and marinas.

Due to regional energy needs, the placement of electric cables and natural gas pipelines from New Haven to Long Island, NY has highlighted the need to determine the spatial variation of sediment metals in coastal harbors. Burial of the cables and pipelines may suspend potentially contaminated sediment into the water column for transport to previously less impacted sediment. Our course examines the following questions: Are the sediments in New Haven harbor contaminated with copper? Are the levels of copper in the sediments harmful to commercially important marine organisms? Are there strategies to reduce the amount of contaminants entering New Haven harbor? Students develop hypotheses concerning the extent of sediment contamination based on the sediment type (sand vs. silt) and the location of the sediment in the harbor (proximity to sources of contamination).

Sediment samples are collected during a harbor cruise and the sediments are analyzed for physical (grain size and composition) and chemical characteristics (copper content). Results are then compared to their original hypotheses. Results of the HON 270 analyses have contributed to a GIS database of sediment metal analyses in New Haven harbor and have been presented at regional Long Island Sound Research Conferences. The data, once on-line, will be a useful tool for decision makers concerning the quality of harbor sediment.

Climate Change

Recent scientific studies show that residents in Connecticut can expect to live in a warmer climate in future years. The problems related to climate change include loss or reduction in living marine resources, sea level rise, increased storm intensity and frequency, changes in precipitation patterns and impacts on water resources, and effects of climate change on human heath. According to these studies, changes in the biological diversity in Long Island Sound, including the potential loss of the lobster fishery, are due to warmer water temperatures. The introduction of the mosquito borne West Nile virus, along with the extended range and increasing abundance of the deer tick (Lyme disease), have serious human health consequences.

Our course examines the potential consequences of climate change to residents of Connecticut, with an emphasis on impacts along the coastline. What are the anticipated consequences of climate change in Connecticut? We want students to identify important economic, social, and environmental consequences of a changing climate. Are there strategies available to reduce our emission of greenhouse gases? Students need to make specific recommendations concerning how residents in Connecticut, and themselves as individuals, can reduce their carbon footprint. How will Connecticut adapt to a changing climate? Student group presentations focus on a specific aspect of a changing climate in Connecticut, and students deliver the results of their research in a mini-symposium attended by students and faculty.

Science Topics and Their Relationship to Issues of Public Concern

Course Module Scientific Principles Public Policy Lab/Field Activities
Landscapes and Watersheds Composition of rocks and minerals
Plate tectonics
Erosion and coastal processes
Watershed quality
Coastal landforms
Rock and mineral identification
Field observations of coastal environments and rock outcroppings
Coastal Habitats Marshes, beaches, rocky interitdal zones
Coastal marine ecology
Storms and hurricanes
Economic, environmental and social value of coastal ecosystems
Hurricane preparedness
Coastal population and economic development
Field visits to marsh, beach
Landscape surveying and coastal flood analysis
Human Impacts Sources of harbor metal contaminants
AAS spectroscopy
Harbor sediment quality
Pollution prevention
Seafood quality
Dredging and harbor maintenance
Harbor sediment sampling trip
Laboratory analysis of sediment physical and chemical properties
Climate Change Atmospheric gases and greenhouse effect
Temperature effects on climate change
Climate models
Energy use, resources and economics
Renewable and alternative energy
Consequences of a warmer climate
Student group research concerning consequences of a warmer climate

The Course

A major priority in the design of this course is the engagement of students as scientists and citizens. This is accomplished through the variety of techniques described below.

Science of the Connecticut Coast: Investigations of an Urbanized Shoreline Syllabus

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Class Policies

Due to the hands-on nature of this class, attendance is mandatory. We expect students to attend all class sessions and be prepared to participate. Missed classes will result in a loss of 5% of your total grade (half a grade). If you miss more than 3 sessions, this will result in failure of the course. We realize that genuine emergencies arise. If you must miss class due to a serious emergency, please notify an instructor before class (phone, email, FAX). Written assignments must be submitted on when due.

Students should also be aware of the SCSU policy concerning academic honesty (SCSU Student Handbook). Cheating/Plagiarism will not be tolerated! Violators of this policy will fail this course.

If you need course adaptations or accommodations due to a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please notify an instructor ASAP.

Field Trips

An important aspect of the success of this course, and the smooth running of the laboratory and field exercises, is that both instructors attend all of the classes. Each instructor assumes a lead role for one or more of the course modules, however both instructors actively participate in all classes.

One of the challenges we have faced in this course is the scheduling and conduct of frequent class trips to field sites. Course enrollment is limited to 20 students, which helps make the travel and field studies manageable. The course as defined works best during the Fall semester in New England when the weather allows the scheduling of field trips until the first week of November. We are both strong proponents of “learning science by doing science” and the field trips are central to the success of the course. The three-hour Friday morning laboratory has generally provided sufficient time to allow for travel and work at the field sites. We are sensitive to the fact that students have other commitments
following class and we make every effort to be efficient in our travel and organization to accomplish the tasks in the time allotted. Part of the student participation grade is being on time and prepared for the field trips. This requires the instructors and the students to use the field time efficiently. We have often relied on the good faith of the students to volunteer to drive to local and regional field sites (all located within 30 miles of campus). We have also frequently used the university van to transport students. The weather plays an important role in the course. We have experienced rain, cold, wind, and heat during our field trips. It generally only takes one rain event to make students aware of the need to properly prepare for the field trips. We go rain or shine.

On two occasions during the semester, the boat trip and the acid digestion of the sediment samples, we split the class for the day (9 am -12 pm and 1 pm – 4 pm). The class split is necessary for the boat trip to allow for sufficient time to collect the samples necessary for the study and to maximize student participation in the sampling activities. During the laboratory, extraction of the metals from the sediment the split is necessary, due to limited hood space for students and our safety concern over too many students in the lab handling glassware and chemicals. In each case we have added a second three-hour class in the afternoon. Students have been cooperative in choosing appropriate time slots.

Funding for the field trips has been a challenge. The boat charter, sufficient field and laboratory equipment, transportation fees, etc. need to be considered in the development of the course. We have been successful in obtaining funds from the Honors College, the Student Activities Office and the Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies funds in support of the course. More recently, the Connecticut State University Center for Coastal and Marine Studies has provided support for this course.

Evaluating Learning

Presentation

Energy Use and Global Warming

Global climate change is arguably one of the greatest threats to our natural environment and represents a tremendous challenge to politicians, citizens, environmentalists and educators to identify and implement equitable policies to reduce projected temperature increases. The combustion of fossil fuels for energy production results in the production of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of several greenhouse gasses whose concentrations are increasing in the Earth’s atmosphere. The recent United Nation sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated an average global temperature increase ranging from 1.5-4.5 °C by 2100 as a result of the projected increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Temperature increases of this magnitude are expected to result in consequences including changing weather patterns, migration of ecosystems, sea level rise and coastal flooding. An international effort is underway (Kyoto Protocol) to try to reduce the production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, however the fate of this agreement is uncertain.

Each group (5-6 students/group) is assigned the task of examining specific consequences of possible climate change in Connecticut/New England. The presentations will focus on the following topics: Human health effects, sea level changes, weather/storms and living marine resources in Long Island Sound. Focus your presentation on one or more major consequences of each possible outcome. In addition to describing possible consequences, each group should also present some ideas/strategies on how we may adapt/respond to the anticipated consequences of climate change. Finally, each group should present 3 or 4 suggested ways/strategies on how CT residents can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

We will conduct a symposium where each group will present their findings and recommendations. These oral presentations should be practiced and professional (dress appropriately). We recommend (not required) that the presentations use PowerPoint software for preparation and presentation of the results of your research. Each group presentation should last 15-20 minutes maximum. This time will include several minutes for questions from the audience. Everyone is expected to participate in the questioning of the presenters. Each group will submit copies (disk or photocopy) of their PowerPoint presentation or lecture notes to the instructors as part of the final grade (group grade).

Research

Geologic History of Connecticut

Rules

  1. Write well (good grammar and organization)
  2. Re-write (first drafts are not good enough)
  3. Think things through (don’t be superficial)
  4. Presentation counts (images, maps, etc)
  5. Get it right (double check your interpretations and ask questions if necessary)
  6. Meet deadlines (turn it in on time)
  7. Don’t plagiarize words or ideas (don’t borrow text and reference often)

Format

I. Introduction
Should contain description of geologic history of Connecticut with referencing and brief discussion of terranes and associated rock types. Should also explain purpose of your investigation, i.e., to identify rocks of Connecticut shoreline in Branford and East Haven and to relate them to established terrains and the processes that created them.

II. Methods
Where did you go and what did you do?

III. Results and Discussion
You want to describe what you found (e.g. outcrops) at each stop. Describe and identify the rock and state what evidence (e.g., mineralogy and texture) you used to make that identification. Infer environment and processes of formation from the rock ID. Relate the rocks to tectonic terranes and explain why you think they belong to a specific terrane. If you think that there is more than one possible terrain, justify this. From the terrain, discuss what these rocks you found tell you about CT geologic history. Reference your readings from Press and Seiver, Bell, and the class lab handouts liberally.

IV. Figures
Adding a presentable map of your sample locations would be an excellent idea. A color copy of you geologic map would also be appropriate as would photos of the outcrops and rock samples. Figures should be neat and well-labeled. Each figure should have a figure number (e.g., Figure 3) and a caption summarizing the point being made with the figure.

V. Conclusion
Revisit your results and interpretations in the form of a coherent summary, i.e., explain the big picture.

VI. References
Follow a format from your readings.

Coastal Environments and Processes

Rules

  1. Write well (good grammar and organization)
  2. Re-write (first drafts are not good enough)
  3. Think things through (don’t be superficial)
  4. Presentation counts (images, maps, etc)
  5. Get it right (double check your interpretations and ask questions if necessary)
  6. Meet deadlines (turn it in on time)
  7. Don’t plagiarize words or ideas (don’t borrow text and reference often)

Format

I. Introduction
Should provide enough background for the reader to understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and the significance of your results. The following things should be addressed:

  • A brief characterization of the Connecticut coast
  • A brief discussion of hurricanes and hurricane history on the Connecticut coast
  • The purpose of your study
  • A description of the study site(s)
  • Include a location map
  • Be sure to reference material you take from the readings, e.g., (Patton and Kent, 1992)
  • Reference information from instructors as personal communications, e.g., (James Tait, personal communication)

II. Methods
Should address:

  • How you obtained your survey results
  • How you determined the flood zone elevation
  • How you assessed the value of the properties at risk

III. Results
Should include:

  • Street profiles (distance vs. elevation) for all three streets
  • A flood zone map
  • A description of each street in terms of its topography, location of the flood zone boundary, and the nature and numbers of structures.
  • A description of natural habitats in the study area

IV. Discussion
Should synthesize your results, describing the potential impacts of a repeat 1938-type event on the study site (nature and extent of damage). Also, discuss potential impacts on the surrounding natural environment (marsh and beach). The introduction should contain information about marshes and beaches that provide the foundations of such a discussion as part of your description of the Connecticut coast. Also address potential impacts on other areas of West Haven, for example, the flat-lying area around Beach Avenue (Captain’s Galley) or the Sewage Treatment Plant. You may want to look a topographic map of West Haven and see where the topography is low-lying and where it is not. Try very hard to separate hypothesis or speculation from arguable fact. There is a place for both but they should not be mixed up.

V. Conclusions
Sum up your observations of potential impacts of a repeat of the 1938 event on the city of West Haven. Also, try to extend your comments to the Connecticut coast in general. You may wish to recommend further studies (but should be somewhat specific).

V. References
Follow a format from your readings.

Quality of New Haven Harbor

Rules

  1. Write well (good grammar and organization)
  2. Re-write (first drafts are not good enough)
  3. Think things through (don’t be superficial)
  4. Presentation counts (images, maps, etc)
  5. Get it right (double check your interpretations and ask questions if necessary)
  6. Meet deadlines (turn it in on time)
  7. Don’t plagiarize words or ideas (don’t borrow text and reference often)

I. Introduction
Should provide sufficient information for the reader to understand what you are doing, why you are doing it, and the significant of your results. The following points should be addressed:

  • A discussion of New Haven harbor
    -What is the significance (economic, social, etc) of the harbor to the state of Connecticut?
    -Discuss the historical economic and industrial development of the harbor
    -Summarize the current uses (often competing uses) and environmental importance of the harbor
  • A discussion of how economic activity within a harbor can result in contaminated sediment
  • A discussion of why we should be concerned about contaminants in harbor sediments
  • The purpose of your study
  • Include a location map
  • Cite material that you take from your readings

II. Methods
Should address:

  • How the sampling sites in the harbor were selected
  • How the sediment samples were collected
    -Brief description of each sites location
  • How the sediment samples were prepared for metal analysis
  • The acid digestion procedure
  • The use of reference material (NIST 2702)
  • How visual characterization of the sediment samples was performed
    -The criteria used to categorize the samples
  • A brief description of the atomic absorption spectrophotometer for copper analysis
  • A brief description of the calculations

III. Results
Should include:

  • The locations (latitude and longitude) of the sampling sites
  • A thorough description of the characteristics of the sediment samples at each location (grain size, loss on ignition, etc.)
  • An assessment of the accuracy and precision of our techniques (recovery of the copper content of the standard reference materials)
  • The calculated copper concentrations for each site

IV. Discussion and Conclusions
One of your readings (Branford Harbor) conducted a similar study. You should compare and contrast the results from the New Haven harbor study with those found in Branford harbor. Is the New Haven harbor sediment contaminated with respect to copper? Provide evidence to support your answer. Each of you developed a series of hypotheses concerning the extent of contamination of sediment at 5 locations in the harbor. Find locations in the current study similar to those you chose and re-examine those initial hypotheses. How did your expectations compare with the data? What are some of the specific sources of copper in the harbor? Do the physical properties of the sediment at the various locations in the harbor correlate with the copper contents of the sediment at these same locations? Does the copper content of the sediment vary with location? If there is variation, are patterns evident? You may wish to find copper contents of other Long Island Sound harbors or elsewhere for use in comparing to New Haven harbor sediment. Why should we be concerned about contaminated sediments in New Haven harbor? What environmental habitats and living marine resources are threatened? Is there anything that can be done to remediate contaminated sediment?

V. References
Follow a format of your choice from your readings.

Grades

Three quizzes (announced/unannounced) will be given during class and will address material presented during lectures, readings, and field/lab activities and will count towards 25% of the course final grade. Students will also be expected to submit written reports concerning the field and laboratory activities (50% of final grade). Specific format of these reports will be addressed during class. All reports must be typed! Participation will account for 25% of the final grade (includes attendance, participation in class discussion, quality of effort in field and laboratory work, being on time to class and excursions, etc.).

Course Evaluation and Assessment

One indicator of the success of the HON 270 course is that it has filled each time the course has been offered. Students generally like the idea of “learning science by doing science” although there are always  a few students who are resistant to an approach that places less emphasis on in-class lecture style learning and more of an emphasis on inquiry-based field and laboratory work. Many Honors students have been successful in high school by mastering the art of memorizing and regurgitatinginformation on quizzes and exams. We take a very different approach in this course. We only give two or three quizzes during the semester and no mid-term or final exams. The quizzes are given with
the goal of making sure that the students are keeping up with and understanding the assigned lecture and reading material.

We place a strong emphasis on synthesizing information and communicating the results of their studies via written and oral reports. Although students work in groups to conduct field and laboratory studies, the students prepare and submit individual reports. We place a strong emphasis on getting the story correct. Some students are uncomfortable with writing a formal science research paper. We provide opportunities, and in fact openly encourage students, to consult with the instructors prior to submitting papers to make sure the story is correct and the paper format is aligned with the assigned guidelines. Too few students take advantage of these opportunities. We are currently revising some of the curriculum to allow time for individual student meetings prior to paper due dates.

The only formal assessment of the course to date is via the standard university course evaluation forms. The student responses on these forms have generally been positive and the majority of the students are favorable towards this approach to learning science. There are a few students each semester who express dissatisfaction with the course, primarily due to the emphasis on group work and the emphasis on positive student participation in the class and during the field trips. We are attempting to extend the boundaries of their learning. In our class, the students need to “work and play well together” and seek to answer questions where there is no simple answer. Overall, the students have generally been enthusiastic concerning collecting the field data and equally careful in conducting the laboratory assignments.

Background and Context

HON 270, A course meeting at Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut

Dr. James Tait, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, Email: tait@southernct.edu, and

Dr. Vincent Breslin, Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies, Email: breslin@southernct.edu.

Course History

Course Statistics

Previous Course Offerings – Fall Semester 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005.

Course Enrollment – Maximum of 20 students per semester

Course Level – Freshman/Sophomore

Prerequisites – Honors College

Course Management and Strategies

Creation of the Honors College science courses has presented significant opportunities and challenges. The vast majority of the Honors College students are not science majors and their only exposure to science may have been anywhere from one to three introductory science courses early in their high school education. The authors decided to develop a course combining field-based research and guided inquiry focused on environmental issues of the Connecticut coast and Long Island Sound. The course was designed to teach science to non-majors to formulate hypotheses, to collect field samples and extract data, to use of modern analytical instrumentation in a laboratory setting, to engage in quantitative data analysis, and to effectively communicate results in writing and orally. Papers and presentations stress the societal relevance of the investigation.

The course is scheduled with a two-hour lecture/lab session each week followed by a three-hour field exercise. During the field exercise, data of various sorts are gathered and environmental observations are made. For the most part, fieldwork is focused on gathering data on a particular problem or to test a particular hypothesis. At other times the three-hour class is used for doing laboratory analysis of sediment samples collected from coastal waters. The emphasis on field and laboratory work is considered crucial to the intent of the class, which is to learn science by doing science using unscripted problems of general concern to the community.

The semester-long course has four modules. A geology module focuses on the geologic formation of the Connecticut coast and requires students to master identification and interpretation of basic rock types and geologic structures found in the region. The geologic and geomorphic framework of the coast provides a physical context for subsequent modules. The glacial history of the area, for example, resulted in the deposition of terminal and recessional moraines (e.g., Long Island) that formed a protected, low-energy coastal environment characterized by salt marshes.

A coastal processes module examines Connecticut’s coastal wetlands and sandy beaches and the contemporary processes that modify them. Students explore local marshes and beaches, making observations of the sediments, waves and tides, topography, and characteristic biota. The culminating theme in the module is living with the coast. Students examine the potential impacts of the recurrence of a storm with the magnitude of the 1938 hurricane. This storm produced water levels 14 to 18 feet above mean sea level and waves as high as 15 feet. Most of
the Connecticut coast is flat lying and heavily developed. A central trust of this module is a topographic survey of selected coastal neighborhoods. Students work quantitatively with survey data to map the extent of inundation and estimate the value of property at risk using publicly available assessment data.

A coastal pollution module examines the industrial history of New Haven, culminating in a study of sediment metal contamination in New Haven harbor. The theme in this case is human impacts on the coast. Students formulate hypotheses concerning the relative concentrations, geographic distribution, and potential sources for metal contaminants. Working as a group, the students plan a research cruise to obtain sediment samples, agreeing on sampling stations that best serve their collective hypotheses. The cruise takes place aboard a chartered coastal research vessel. At each station, students obtain one or more sediment samples using a surface grab. Samples are examined in a cursory fashion, labeled, and stored in a cooler. Precise data on positioning, tide level, and time of day are recorded. In subsequent classes, samples are analyzed for copper content following standard lab procedures and with the use of an atomic absorption spectrophotometer. Copper is used as an index metal for metal concentrations in general. Students are expected to understand the theoretical underpinnings of how the spectrophotometer works. Calculations are then performed on spectrophotometer results to obtain metal concentrations in parts per million. Students compare these results with their original hypotheses, and make interpretations concerning the specific distribution sediment contamination.

The final module stresses climate change and its potential impact on the Connecticut coast including sea level rise and possible effects on living
resources in Long Island Sound. Students work in groups of four or five with each group researching the implications for a specific climate change impact. The groups organized a PowerPoint presentation in which each student presents part of the group’s findings. The presentations are required to go beyond mere reportage and must include the group’s critical thinking on how severe a particular impact might be, what ramifications (e.g., economic) might occur as a result of that impact, how society might prepare and respond to the impact in question, and actions that concerned individuals might be able to take to alleviate the problems.

Who Created the Course?

This course was developed by James Tait and Vincent Breslin. Both are faculty in the Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies. Dr. Breslin has a background in oceanography and environmental chemistry as well as marine biology. Dr. Tait’s background is in oceanography and geosciences with a concentration in the geological and physical processes of the coastal zone. We have made use of our respective expertise to design the course focusing on issues and processes along the Connecticut coastline.

Vincent T. Breslin

Vincent T. Breslin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies at Southern Connecticut State University. He received a B.S. in Marine Biology from the University of New England, ME, a M.S. in Marine Environmental Studies from SUNY at Stony Brook, NY and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Florida Institute of Technology, FL. Dr. Breslin served on the faculty of the Marine Sciences Research Center at SUNY at Stony Brook, NY prior to his arrival at SCSU in the Fall 2000. He currently serves as the faculty coordinator for both the undergraduate Marine Studies and Environmental Studies minor programs and is a member of the SCSU Graduate Faculty. Dr. Breslin teaches undergraduate courses in the Marine Studies minor program, the Environmental Studies minor program, the Honors College program and the graduate Environmental Education MS program.

Dr. Breslin developed two new courses for the Environmental Education program: EVE 559 Energy Use and Global Climate Change and EVE 552 Long Island Sound: Environmental Perspectives. He also developed new courses in collaboration with other SCSU faculty for the Honors College concerning Science along the Connecticut Coastline and Energy. Dr. Breslin’s teaching has been informed by his participation in the National Science Foundation sponsored Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities program designed to improve science  education by focusing on real world problems. His courses have field and/or laboratory components that require students to do research and make observations concerning the natural world. In addition, his courses stress doing science that has direct social relevance to coastal Connecticut and the greater New Haven area. Dr. Breslin recently received the 2007 J. Philip Smith Award for Outstanding Teaching at Southern Connecticut State University.

Dr. Breslin has also received funding and published papers in support of laboratory and field-based studies examining the biogeochemical behavior of contaminant metals in coastal waters. His studies have been important in understanding the spatial distribution of contaminant metals in Connecticut harbors and the potential accumulation of these metals in living marine resources. He also serves as a co-coordinator with Dwight Smith (Biology) and James Tait (Science Education and Environmental Studies) for the Connecticut State University Center for Coastal and Marine Studies. The CCMS enhances faculty-directed student research and curriculum development in support of addressing regional issues of concern to coastal Connecticut.

James F. Tait

James Tait is an Associate Professor in the Department of Science Education and Environmental Studies at Southern Connecticut State University. He received a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Earth Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz, CA. Dr. Tait was a Research Associate at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz prior to his arrival at SCSU in 1997. Dr. Tait teaches undergraduate courses in the Marine Studies minor program, the Honors College program and the graduate Environmental Education M.S. program. In addition to HON 270 Science along the Connecticut Coast, Dr. Tait developed two new courses for the Environmental Education
program: IDS 560 Rivers and Watersheds and EVE 550 Tsunamis and Hurricanes.

Dr. Tait has been actively involved in leadership positions at SCSU in issues concerning undergraduate curriculum development and reform. Dr. Tait has chaired the Undergraduate Curriculum Forum, a university-wide committee charged with the task of devising and encouraging the means for improving overall undergraduate curricular arrangements and quality of instruction. Dr. Tait is currently serving on the SCSU General Education Task Force charged with revising the General Education curriculum at SCSU. James Tait is an active researcher and has published papers and received funding in support of his studies examining coastal processes. He also serves as a co-coordinator with Dwight Smith (Biology) and Vincent Breslin (Science Education and Environmental Studies) for the Connecticut State University Center for Coastal and Marine Studies.

Where is the course taught?

Southern Connecticut State University and the Honors College

Southern Connecticut State University is a large urban-suburban comprehensive public university with a mission to serve the community and to provide access to education. The university is the flagship of a four-campus Connecticut State University system and serves as the principal locus of graduate programs. It has an enrollment of approximately 12,000 students. The campus is located in the in coastal city of New Haven and has ready access to Long Island Sound, an estuary that separates the state from Long Island in the state of New York. The coast of Connecticut is one of the most densely urbanized in the country with both residences and industry. This geography makes the coastal zone both vulnerable to natural processes such as erosion and storm damage and subject to degradation via marine pollution and other anthropogenic impacts.

The Honors College at Southern Connecticut State University offers an interdisciplinary, team-taught curriculum that honors students take in lieu of the University’s general education curriculum. The HON 270 Science along the Connecticut Coast fulfills one of two required science courses in the Honors College curriculum. Emphasis is on intellectual interaction, interdisciplinary perspectives, and on the probing of subject matter in depth as opposed to the breadth of coverage typical of many introductory survey courses. The ultimate goal of the honors curriculum is to cultivate strong reading and writing skills with an emphasis on original critical thinking.

Resulting Projects and Research

Many SENCER courses result in further educational and professoinal development projects.

Breslin, V.T. and J.F. Tait. (2007). Science Along the Connecticut Coast: An
Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching Science to Undergraduates. Second
Annual SENCER New England Regional Symposium. Brennan Center,
Springfield College, January 11, 2007.

Breslin, V.T. and J.F. Tait. (2005). Science Along the Connecticut Coast: An
Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching Science to Undergraduates. American
Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt
Lake City, Utah, February 20-25, 2005.