In the Field: Update from the Wilderness & Place in Maine (TERRAIN testbed) Team


During Integrated Project time, students dove more deeply into the data that they collected during last week’s Scarborough Marsh excursion. They applied mathematics skills to extrapolate – based upon the bacteria they cultured from marsh soil at the end of last week – the overall population of DMSP*-producing bacteria. Students also extrapolated from their bird observation data to estimate populations of various species. This was an opportunity to deepen Excel skills and learn about limitations associated with sampling strategies and extrapolation. Next steps for this data analysis will include learning to use the NOAA Marsh Migration tool and GIS data projections to estimate (and visualize) the potential impact of sea level rise on the Scarborough Marsh.


*(For those of you – like myself – who are unfamiliar with this this acronym … DMSP is the chemical shorthand for dimethylsulfoniopropionate – a molecule that, when metabolized, gives rise to a gas that may function to regulate climate by increasing cloud droplet formation.)


During our weekly debrief, the instructional team continued to emphasize the richness of integrated project learning opportunities and the essential role of collaboration for supporting these opportunities. The most effective lessons/tasks this term have been those that emerged from collaborative planning and were implemented in a context facilitated by multiple team members. We would like to preserve these design features in the 2020 TERRAIN launch.


This week, the TERRAIN cohorts travelled to Frye Mountain, where they applied various skills (use of compasses and GIS, line transects, etc.) in a novel context. During the experience debrief, students identified aspects of the experience that were challenging and discussed strategies that supported success. The instructors were pleased with the level of professionalism and collaboration exhibited by the students throughout this excursion.


At least in some contexts, the TERRAIN cohorts appear to be entering the “storming” stage of group development (group development theory posits four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing). This stage generally emerges when groups become comfortable with one another and experience challenges associated with different working styles. Currently, the TERRAIN students are working productively in academic contexts, but feeling some tension in the residence hall setting. The team is responding by encouraging students to participate in campus-wide events and supporting conflict-resolution when needed. It’s important to bear in mind that this is a normal and predictable stage of group development and generally a sign that trusting relationships are forming. When we implement TERRAIN next year, it may be preferable for the residence hall (and Expedition Community) assignments to be independent of students’ enrollment in specific expeditions. In other words, students may not be both living and taking expeditions with the same 30 peers for an entire term. This should help them to make more connections with other first-year students and provide more opportunities to have time away from intense group experiences.


Behind the Scenes


I have worked with the VPF, CAO, and Deans MacRae and deHart this week to elaborate a staffing model for expeditions, informed by the work of the current testbed team. We hope that this will be the basis of a broader discussion, which will include faculty, of what course schedules might look like within the quarter calendar and how teaching workload might be calculated. In the Sustaining the Flagship meetings, we gave the Registrar feedback on a draft of a TERRAIN transcript and worked with Dining Director Becky Sugden to brainstorm strategies to provide for the nutritional needs of students on excursions.



— Jen




Jennifer L. Cartier, Ph.D. (she, her, hers)

Dean of the School of Environmental Citizenship

Professor of Education

Unity College

Unity, Maine 04998

(412) 215-6511 (cell, preferred)

(207) 509-7282 (office)


Office: Constable Hall 201