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Rural Road Ecology And Maintenance Course Offers Real-World Training

Penn State boasts one of the most successful forestry and environmental protection curricula in the nation, and the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies is improving the departments even more with the implementation of a new course for students in majors associated with environmental protection.

The university designed a “rural road ecology and maintenance” course (ERM/FOR 497) to give students real-world training which they previously were unable to receive in school. Steve Bloser is the center director for the Center of Dirt and Gravel Road Studies, and he’s working with Eric Chase, a researcher at the center, to set up the course. Funding from the center’s two main sponsors, the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, also provided a major part in the development of the course. “We heard a lot of people weren’t being trained [on roads] coming out of school here,” Bloser said.

The lack of training on dirt and gravel roads was one of the major factors in Chase and Bloser implementing the new course. Most professions in the environmental field require workers to be able to drive on dirt and gravel roads and possibly to repair those roads. If graduates aren’t trained in how to maintain these roads, they are put in a severe disadvantage compared to other employees who may be trained. A broad range of careers needing this training was another driving force in developing the course. “We thought this course would have a broad reach just because in mining, you have to deal with roads,” Bloser said. “In forestry, whether you’re a state forester or actually logging, roads are kind of everywhere, but there’s nothing here about them really.”

The development of the rural road ecology and maintenance course will change all that, and students who want the training are excited about the introduction of the course. “We currently have 19 [students] enrolled in the course,” Chase said. “This is the first year that we brought it so we’re very happy with the response with 19 students already. The fact that they’re coming from five different majors really shows that it’s needed.”

As for the design of the course, both Chase and Bloser said that it will be based on the knowledge and practices the Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies has used for 20 years. “We have the knowledge, we have everything here,” Bloser said. “We’re really set up for educational outreach.”

Bloser and Chase explained that the class will be set up in three components. The first will focus on principles of sediment erosion, hill-slope hydrology, and getting students the knowledge of how roads and streams interact. The second part will share the 20-year-old knowledge that the center has gained with the students. The final part will have a design aspect where students will look at a road in the field and design an improvement for it based off of their knowledge. The design project will be a great test to see how much the students have learned and if they can apply it in a real setting. “We’re going to be going over to the Penn State experimental forest and actually have them look at completed projects and roads that need projects,” Chase said, “and we’ll have them design a road project.”

The technical aspect of this course is an important one which will prepare students for even more than they already are at the university. “There’s a very big real world component to this that should prepare them for potential future jobs,” Chase said.

As the job market continues to expand in most environmental fields, and with Penn State as a leader in educating its students for today and tomorrow’s problems with its excellent programs, the institution of rural road ecology and maintenance will help provide students with yet another edge over other potential job candidates. The Center for Dirt and Gravel Road Studies and the enrolled students in the course are all excited for the continued progress of the educational opportunities at Penn State and to see what the course may hold for their future.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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