Mary Jo Hartman leads students in biology field work

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Mary Jo Hartman, broadening SMU's biology horizons through "Sound Learning Communities."

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Professor Mary Jo Hartman participates in "Sound Learning Communities" to learn more about the Puget Sound

Exciting educational opportunities are as close as your own back yard. Ask Associate Professor of biology Mary Jo Hartman, Ph.D., who explored the Nisqually River Watershed and South Puget Sound during a summer field course.

Hartman was one of four Saint Martin’s faculty who took part in "Sound Learning Communities," a week-long course through The Evergreen State College. Also attending were Associate Prof. of mathematics Joe Mailhot; Associate Prof. of English Jamie Olson, Ph.D.; and Learning Garden Coordinator Lynn Villella. They were joined by faculty members from Evergreen, South Puget Sound Community College and Centralia College.

The course objective? To learn more about area resources that faculty members could use in their classrooms and labs to give their students a better understanding of risks facing the Puget Sound ecosystem. The group also learned about efforts — large-scale and individual — to lessen those risks, Hartman said.

The great side benefit, she added, was networking with faculty from nearby institutions.

"We really don't have a lot of interaction with faculty at those schools," she said. "Since we’re all so small, (the program) had the effect of expanding the number of colleagues you can actually reach out and talk to. We shared a lot of information, and the more we talked, the more we found we have in common."

The group toured downstream areas like Budd Inlet and upstream places such as the University of Washington’s Center for Sustainable Forestry at Pack Forest. Members also heard from people directly affected by water quality issues. On a visit to the Squaxin Island Tribe, for instance, they learned history from the tribal viewpoint and received information about case histories involving Native American rights.

Hartman said the week supplied her with a stable of local experts from which she can draw, as well as ideas for field work in various subjects she teaches.

Some of those new resources will find their place among courses she teaches in marine biology, field ecology and environmental science for non-majors.

Hartman, who grew up on an Iowa dairy farm, says she’s always enjoyed biology and the joy of watching students get excited about what they’re learning.

She says that because Saint Martin's is small, the biology faculty gets to offer what few schools can: individual attention and lots of hands-on experience, especially on senior projects. Because of this requirement, a biology major graduates having designed and performed all stages of an individual research project.

"Besides teaching our individual courses, I think it's the best thing we do in the biology department," she says.