Olivia Barksdale sitting on a rock in the middle of a stream

Via Problems of Practice course, students gain experience in monitoring conservation land

'This course gives me direction for what I want to do after graduation,' Olivia Barksdale '19 says
December 8, 2017

Problems of Practice (POP) courses at Clark University allow undergraduate students to gain internship-like experience outside the classroom. This semester, students in Professor John Baker’s POP course on “Small-Scale Land Conservation in Massachusetts” connected not only with the great outdoors but with local conservation specialists who taught them about annual monitoring of preserved land.

For Olivia Barksdale ’19, an environmental science major and geography minor, the experience has provided her with more skills and experience to pursue her career goals.

Olivia Barksdale
Olivia Barksdale
plays field hockey
and softball.

“This course gives me direction for what I want to do after graduation – something conservation-oriented, or with resource management,” says Barksdale, who is considering working in the field through AmericaCorps VISTA.

As part of Baker’s course, she and her classmates researched Massachusetts’ legal agreement called a conservation restriction (CR), which preserves scenic, natural and open land, often allowing public access. State law requires an annual CR monitoring report for each plot of land.

They focused on six parcels in Petersham, taking field trips to each site to walk the land and meet with conservation officials.

“The students learned why these specific conservation restrictions were put in place, how the legally guiding document pertaining to them – the baseline – was developed, and how to properly conduct the legally required annual monitoring,” says Baker, associate research professor of biology. “They gained real-world experience in the field of conservation.”

The student teams produced six CR reports, which were reviewed by the town’s Conservation Commission and Selectboard and submitted to the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

John Baker
Professor John

Barksdale and three other students focused on two conservation restrictions: the 98-acre King Farm, and the 190-acre St. Mary’s Monastery and St. Scholastica Priory parcel.

“It was fun going out in the field and then reading and learning about conservation on a  local scale,” she says. “I’ve experienced conservation at the federal scale, so it’s nice getting a well-rounded picture and seeing how different agencies and communities monitor important land.”

Barksdale interned last summer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wisconsin through the Student Conservation Association. She hopes to return to work with the FSW next summer. Through a directed study with Baker, she’s surveyed the environment of freshwater pearl mussels in Massachusetts. In the spring, she’s studying abroad in the CIEE Global Sustainability and Environment Program in Berlin.

“I love learning about every aspect of the environment. I have developed a passion for forest and wetland ecosystems.” she says "It’s a great feeling to know that the lands I'm working hard to protect will be there for future generations to learn about and appreciate."

Barksdale, of Fort Washington, Md., was attracted to Clark because she could play two varsity sports – field hockey and softball – and she could take advantage of the University’s world-renowned GIS (geographic information systems) program, through which she’s acquired digital mapping skills.

She has made the dean’s list, and she recently was named to the Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Division III New England East Region Second Team and the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Second Team.

 “Playing sports at Clark has helped me to grow both as a person and academically,” she says. “I have become more independent, self-reliant and highly motivated.”