Story posted February 12, 2012
Within minutes of walking off campus, Bowdoin students can be sitting in an old-growth pine forest or watching ducks from a small footbridge. But too often, distracted by their academic work or the myriad activities happening on campus, they don’t get outside to explore.
Leah Wang ’12, an environmental studies and economics major, is trying to change this and broaden students’ natural history experience. Last summer as a Gibbons fellow, she created a guide of the trails, parks, nature preserves and recreational opportunities in and around Brunswick. The Gibbons Summer Research Program pays students $3,200 to pursue a technology-related project over eight weeks, usually in concert with faculty research.
“We are lucky to have our outing club, but left to our own devices, we would probably stick to going to the gym, or if you have a car, going shopping, when really, there are so many beautiful spots right off campus that will leave you more relaxed,” Wang said.
After her summer fellowship was over, Wang decided she was obligated to continue her work. “It was just something sitting in the computer,” she said, about her trail guide. “It doesn’t do any good to keep it to myself.”
So Wang was hired by the IT department to distribute the guide and get it into students’ hands. The guide is available online, and Wang is also creating an interactive Google map. Plus she will develop a hard-copy trail map as an addendum to the campus map that she’d like to place around the college by spring. She’s looking for a small amount of funding to pay for the printing fee.
Wang had four advisers on this project: Nat Wheelwright, professor of biology; Jeff Ward, director of athletics; Jennifer Snow, educational research consultant for IT; and Eileen Johnson, program manager/GIS analyst and environmental studies lecturer.
“I got to produce something that included places I already knew about and tell other people about how they’re so beautiful and easily accessible. I got paid to explore more and find new places — places to swim or to sit in silence. I got paid to talk to students about where they bike and walk. I got to hone my skills in respect to GIS and [Adobe] Illustrator. And I got to work independently, which was great.”
Wheelwright said he had been pushing for a trail guide like Wang’s for 20 years. “One of my missions has been to unplug students — first from their Sony walkmans, and now from their iPhones — to open their eyes to the natural splendors of Maine and learn something about natural history and the plants and animals around them,” he said.
Wheelwright commended Wang for doing great research this summer and pulling together information from a number of sources. Ward also praised Wang's work, and says it could lead to more map resources in the future. "We've got very good GPS coordinates for all the trails, thanks to Leah and others, and I hope we can build on that to have more and more interactive tools for people to use," Ward said.
Wang, who’s from Newton, Mass and is graduating in May, will work as an apprentice this summer on an organic farm in Newcastle, a half hour north of Brunswick. Following this, says she’d like to stay in Portland and possibly work with a nonprofit, land trust or town planning department.