APU takes active learning to continent’s tallest peak as students share authorship of National Park Service report

Four APU students are co-authors with Associate Professor Michael Loso on a technical report published by the National Park Service and summarizing years of University research on Mount McKinley.

Serving as the students’ adviser, Loso said the project was led by one of his graduate students and incorporated work by three APU undergraduates – each of whom is named in the NPS publication.

“Exciting as field work is, it’s only part of the scientific process,” Loso said. “Analyzing, synthesizing and publishing your work is the other part – one that’s less frequently available to students at small liberal arts colleges.

“At APU, it’s just another day on the mountain.”

The project was led by Katelyn Goodwin, who earned her Master of Science in Environmental Science in 2011 and works today as an environmental consultant. Her thesis based on McKinley research was published in 2012 in the peer-reviewed journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research.

Co-authors with Loso and Goodwin are Dustin English, ’09, and Earth Science undergraduates Rich Johnson and Haley Williams. English is an alpine guide who completed a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Studies.

Their report published in August contributes to NPS understanding of environmental effects of human waste left by hundreds of McKinley climbers. Standard practice calls for waste to be bagged and tossed into a Kahiltna Glacier crevasse.

Field work conducted over a two-year period sometimes required Goodwin to enlist a helicopter to test the breakdown of bacteria in harsh glacial environments. English measured glacier velocities and presented findings in his OS senior project.

To evaluate alternate waste management on McKinley, Johnson and Williams analyzed existing data for a practicum course that took into account costs in both dollars and carbon emissions.

Students completed tasks like sampling water at a glacier’s edge and using GPS to measure the position of markers on the glacier surface. They devised laboratory simulations of glacial environments and called manufacturers to determine carbon emissions of a plastic lid.

“The NPS report highlights opportunities for real-world active learning,” Loso said “These students weren’t only taught science, they were doing it.”