TitleUndergraduate Research Opportunities: Integrated Place-Based Studies in Environmental Science Request Date2012-12-05
RequestorDavid Roberts Phone406-994-5670
Campuses Bozeman Billings Havre Great Falls FSTS Extension MAES
Cross Depts Ecology, Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Earth Science, Animal and Range Science
Proposed Dates Start: Fall 2013 End:  
We propose to develop an integrated set of undergraduate research courses (BIOE, ENSC, ERTH, GPHY 490R) focusing on the geology, soils, vegetation, and wildlife of the Bridger Mountains. Geology students will research the orogeny and bedrock and surficial geology of the range, LRES students will develop a soils map from the geology and topography, Ecology students will develop a classification and map of the vegetation and wildlife habit of the range based on soils, climate, and topography, and geography students will manage the entire project in a geographic Information System (GIS). Emphasis will be on interdisciplinary field research.
Objective D.2 seeks to "enhance the infrastructure in support of research, discovery and creative activities." In the fields of environmental sciences field sites are our laboratories, and increasing access results in increased infrastructure. Objective E.1, metrics E.1.2, E.1.3, and E.1.4 seek to "Strategically increase service, outreach and engagement at MSU." This request will require engagement with professionals in the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, as well private citizens managing lands in the Bridger Mountains. This project will directly address Objective I.1, metric I.1.1 by giving participating students "a substantial curricular experience that integrates learning, discovery and engagement: as well as objective I.2 metrics I.2.1 and I.2.2 by increasing "the number of students completing
interdisciplinary programs" and increasing " interdisciplinary research and creative projects on campus." In addition, the proposed research is directly applicable to Objective S.4 by focusing on natural resource inventory and assessment.
Funding Type: One-Time Only Funding Base (3-yr Recurring) Funding
  FY13 FY14 FY15 Base ($) OTO Startup ($)   FTE;
Salaries       40000      0.5 
Benefits       13076       
Materials & Supplies         10000     
Travel       2000       
Contracted Services              
Other Operations              
TOTAL 55076  10000    0.5 
Please comment, if necessary, regarding cost and requirements.

We request a 0.5 FTE non-TT faculty coordinator position to manage the multiple courses across departments and majors, to manage the field exercises and field safety requirements in conjunction with TT faculty in Ecology, LRES, and Earth Science, and to manage the on-campus needs for equipment management, data management, course cooridnation among faculty, and management of the on-campus laboratory components.  We request a course buyout for TT faculty for one semester a year to enable TT faculoty to teach the filed courses.  We request ongoing travel funds to provide student access to the field sites in the Bridget Mountains.  This could take the form of purchased vehicles (althjough we did not budget for that) or leased vehicle under whatever policy the MSU travel manegement plan approves.  

Describe the Proposal

We propose to develop an integrated set of research courses for students in Ecology, Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Earth Science.  Collectively, we will develop an integrated multidisciplinary inventory and assessment of the Bridger Mountains emphasizing geology, geography, soils, vegetation, and wildlife.  In the initial phase, Geography students will develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) of the known attributes of the Bridger Mountains.  This GIS system will be continually updated to reflect the ongoing work throughout the next three years.  In the second phase, Geology students will map and describe the bedrock  and surficial geology of the Bridgers, and the geomorphology of the landforms identifying the key features of the range and developing materials for engagement.  Subsequent to that, soil science students in Land Resources will develop a soils map based on the developed geology map, an analysis of local climate, and the topography of the range.  From the soils map, Ecology (and Land Resources and Range Science) students will develop a map of the vegetation of the Bridgers emphasizing plant community composition and structure.  Finally Wildlife students in Ecology and Range Science will develop wildlife habitat maps from an analysis of the plant community composition, structure, and juxtaposition.  Ultimately, all of this work will be compiled and published as an Atlas of the Bridger Mountains that spans all the way from geology and climate to plants and wildlife.

The proposal requires extensive field work by undergraduate students in multiple fields, but will emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the work through synthesis of all the elements of the work into a single comprehensive understanding of the geoecology of an entire mountain range.  I am not aware of any undertaking of similar magnitude by undergraduates anywhere in the world. 


Describe the broader impacts and benefits of this proposal

Students participating in these courses will develop critical job skills for natural resource agencies ranging from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, The USDA Forest Service, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and he Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  The opportunities to collaborate with these agencies and citizen land owners in the Bridger Mountains during the course of the project will provide substantial engagement opportunities and subsequent job opportunities for participants.  Gallatin County will gain an immensely valuable tool for assessment and management of lands in the county, and the agencies will get data and maps facilitating natural resource management of their lands.

Implementation Plan

The project coordinator will work with faculty in Earth Science, Land Resources and Environmental Science, Ecology and Range Science to help design the integration of the overall project, and will work with individual departments to advertise specific sections of ERTH 490R, ENSC 490R, BIOE 490R, and GPHY 490R in a sequence as necessary to implement the successive sections.  The coordinator will manage courseintegration, field access and vehicle management, field safety, on-campus equipment and laboratory requirements, and allaspects of the overall project.  Individual faculty in Earth Science, Land Resources and Environmentasl Science and Ecology will develop and supervise the respective elements of the project as appropriate, and will participate in course sections in other dpeartments to ensure coordination and seamless integration.  Students will be encouraged to enroll in multiple consecutive sections (up to the limit of 12 credits towad graduation) to develop interdisciplinary skill sets.    

Assessment Plan

Each individual section will be assessed according to department guidelines, and the overall project will be assessed by a team of faculty with a representative from each department.  The overall objective is the development of the Atlas (perhaps only digital if funds are limited) and a GIS system holding and managing the entire project, so assessment will focus on (1) the skills acquired by student participants, (2) the extent of interdisciplinary work, (3) the quality of the individual elements of the project (geology, GIS, soils classification and map, vegetation classification and map, and wildlife habitat assessment), and (4) the overall quality of the atlas.  representatives from regional natural resource agencies and county commissioners will be invited to review the final product, preferably through student presentations.

If assessed objectives are not met in the timeframe outlined what is the plan to sunset this proposal?

If we are unsuccessful at recruiting a sufficent number of students to make the project work the project can be halted in between the phases of the project, and the project coordinatpr position can be terminated at the end of the semester or academic year.  More likely, the project will be a huge success, and we will propose repeating it for the Gallatin and Madison Mountains in subsequent years!

Department Head: David Roberts (
Dean/Director: Paula Lutz (
Executive/VP: Martha Potvin (