Science students to get a dose of the desert

Professor Tim Grover leads a group discussion with students on a prior trip to the Mojavi Desert.

Seventeen lucky upper level Castleton science majors will trek into the Mojave Desert this summer led by professors Brad Coupe, Tim Grover and Christine Palmer.

Leading up to the big trip, students must take the Natural History of the Mojave Desert course to prepare them for what to expect in the field. The course will cover a mixture of geology, biology and ecology.

 Coupe founded the course in 2005. But before he taught at Castleton, Coupe performed his own fieldwork and studied rattlesnakes in the Mojave.   

“This year we’re condensing a semester long class into four days. Instead of what was a largely lecture based course, we’ll more likely be doing activity sorts of things,” said Coupe, who believes experiential, hands-on learning is best.


At the conclusion ofw the four-day class, students will spend 10 days in Death Valley and the Mojave Desert. For wthree days, students will be tent camping.

For the rest of the excursion, they will stay at a converted homestead near the University of California’s field station.

“I’m pretty excited to see some new rocks and explore some cool places,” said junior geology major Sam Nunnikhoven.

“I’m ready to get out of cold Vermont and go to the desert,” chipped in fellow geology major, Alex Clodgo. This will be Clodgo and Nunnikhoven’s first trip with the science department.

Nunnikhoven and Clodgo are not the only ones enthusiastic about exploring the desert. Grover, chair of the science department, is already planning his lessons for the trip.

“We’ll be going on a number of different hikes to look at and identify the rocks. Every year is a little different though, it’s a huge area and there’s plenty to explore,” Grover said.

Grover will primarily be teaching students desert geology while Coupe will focus on biology and Palmer on ecology. The students will become experts on the specialty of their choice during the four-day crash course and teach each other once they are in the Mojave.

With a record number of students joining the trip this year, Coupe has high expectations.

“I want them to go out there and see things they’ve never seen before, think things they’ve never thought before and come out of it with an appreciation of the desert that most people don’t have,” Coupe said with a smile. “I want them to have a wow experience.”


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