October 25, 1999
Volume 52, No. 9
Cappellato's students experience Lullwater as a lab
"Think Globally, Act Locally" are clearly the bywords of Rosanna Cappellato, instructor of the freshman seminar course, "Lullwater as Laboratory."
Cappellato was born and grew up in Rome. After completing her bachelor's in biology at the University of Rome, she worked for three years as a researcher in the anatomy and embryology department of the University of Amsterdam. Then it was on to Morocco to work in Azilal in the High Atlas Mountains as an associate expert in ecology for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. In 1984 Cappellato moved to Atlanta where she completed her doctorate in biology at Emory. She has been a lecturer at the University since 1994, teaching courses on conservation biology, the global environment and environmental issues. Last year she began teaching the Lullwater class.
"Teaching environmental studies, an interdisciplinary discipline, is the most rewarding and satisfactory work I can think of," Cappellato said. "The students are smart, committed and enthusiastic. I enjoy discussing and exploring issues that are not relegated to the classroom space but are part of our everyday life."
The choice of Lullwater as an "outdoor laboratory" has many advantages. Students learn firsthand about the complexity of natural systems, and they investigate natural and human forces that have shaped the park while learning to appreciate Emory's natural environment. Through experiential learning, they also become knowledgeable of basic scientific principles and methodology. "Central to the class," said Cappellato, "is learning how to ask the right questions, to articulate hypotheses about the natural world and to use quantitative and experiential methods to search for answers."
An initial series of workshops, including guest lecturers, give the students an overview of field techniques to be used in Lullwater. John Wegner of Emory's new environmental studies (ENVS) department led a workshop on insects and mammals, and ENVS' Karen Mumford facilitated another session on water.
As the course unfolds, students design and execute their own research projects. The class culminates in student presentations on topics like the impact of management practices such as fertilization, and on water and soil quality.
"The course means more than learning about the scientific process," Cappellato said. "It raises awareness about the beauty and the value of Emory's natural areas and promotes active participation of the freshman students in the conservation of a unique park."
Student Michelle Wong gave the course a high rating. "I really like the class because it's hands-on," she said. "We go out to Lullwater and observe water quality, plant life and small mammals. We talk about how projects like the new parking deck construction affect the ecology of the park."
Cappellato relies on her grant writing skills to support the development of curriculum and new programs in environmental studies. In 1997 she used a summer stipend to develop the Lullwater course as a freshman seminar. This year she was awarded a grant from the Hughes Science Initiative to expand field-based investigative methods in the outdoor laboratory class.
After receiving a grant from the Office of International Affairs in 1998, Cappellato was able to integrate her research work in southern Africa into a global environment course. Her efforts were rewarded and enhanced by a 1998 summer research grant from the college to study community-based conservation projects in Namibia.
Summer 1999 saw the first group of Emory students in Namibia and Botswana. The students explored three different ecosystems: the wetlands of the Okavango Delta, the savanna of Etosha National Park and the desert at Gobabeb Research Station in the Namib Desert. They met with local researchers, students, farmers and game ranchers, personally encountering the complexities of environmental conservation and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. They also had the pleasure of seeing great herds of elephants, zebras, kudus, springbok and oryx in their natural habitat.
Robert Rutland-Brown, a junior majoring in psychology and history, participated in that encounter. Now he's contemplating a triple major with the addition of human and natural ecology. "I had an incredible time this [past] summer," he said. "I went to Africa because I'd always wanted to learn about the animals and observe them in the wild, but I came away with much more than that. Our group learned about environmental issues in Africa and how they relate to the people who live there."
Future plans for the eco-conscious instructor Cappellato include returning to Namibia and Botswana with a new group of Emory students next summer. She also plans to dedicate herself to the development of the ENVS department--including another freshman seminar next fall in the lab that is Lullwater.