Monday, November 21, 2011

Stadium Woods: Natural heritage in the heart of Virginia Tech's campus

by LCI alumnus and Humphrey Fellow Andreza Silva de Andrade

Stadium Woods is home to over 50 ancient oaks.
BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 9, 2011 – For well over 200 years, regal oaks have stood on a knoll that now borders Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium. The 57 ancient oaks, each measuring more than 3 feet in diameter, form part of a unique, old growth forest in the heart of campus.

Latin American students visiting the university’s Cranwell International Center adjacent to the 20-acre Stadium Woods find the same migratory songbirds they hear back home. Besides hooded warblers, vireos, and some 62 other species of birds identified on the site, a pair of nesting Cooper’s hawks has been spotted there.

The small forest serves as a sort of rest stop and cafeteria for migrating birds. Local birdwatchers consider the woods an excellent spot for adding species to their lifetime lists.

“When the birds come here in the spring and fall, they’re hungry and underweight from their long journey,” said Sarah Karpanty, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “They may stay at Stadium Woods for a day or for weeks.”

John Seiler, Alumni Distinguished Professor in the college, who has been conducting forestry labs in Stadium Woods for years, has permanent plots set up and tagged for regular tree measurement and identification exercises. If Stadium Woods did not exist, he would have a difficult time teaching some of his courses because transporting students to a public forest outside of town would consume the entire 50-minute class period.

“Stadium Woods is a true forest right on campus,” Seiler said. “Although we have trees and even groves around campus, Stadium Woods has the whole ecosystem, with a forest understory populated with plants, insects, and other creatures.”
In a spot surrounded by pavement and concrete buildings, Stadium Woods absorbs rainwater and cools the vicinity in summer. The 2009 Virginia Tech Master Plan Amendment identifies the site as an environmental and cultural greenway, defined as “a significant reservation of lands, waterways, tree stands, and cultural landmarks for future generations.”

Although Stadium Woods has remained relatively untouched during Virginia Tech’s 139-year history, married students were housed in trailers between the trees in one section during the enrollment explosion following World War II. Remnants of concrete sidewalks and porch foundations of “Cassell Heights” can be found in the woods just east of Cassell Coliseum.

Stadium Woods remains one of Virginia Tech’s best kept secrets. Jeff Kirwan, professor emeritus and forestry Extension specialist who co-authored the book “Remarkable Trees of Virginia,” has been exploring the woods for about 10 years. Impressed by what he saw, he persuaded the Virginia Master Naturalists to inventory the on site species. In addition to native species such as mayapple and black haw viburnum, they found invasive, nonnative species such as Asiatic bittersweet, English ivy, and multiflora rose, which need to be controlled. Kirwan enlisted the Virginia Tech Society of American Foresters Student Chapter, with help from the Virginia Tech Forestry Club and the honor society Xi Sigma Pi, to work on removing nonnative species at the site.

“The Virginia Tech Society of American Foresters Student Chapter was very excited to facilitate removal of invasive plant species this fall,” said Kyle Dingus of Warrenton, Va., a senior majoring in forest resource management in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the chair of the student chapter. “We feel that restoring Stadium Woods to a natural state is a way to benefit the community and to help maintain a well-known ecological landmark. The chapter plans on continuing these efforts every year so that we can continue to support our community.”

The New River Valley Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, the New River Valley Native Plant Society, and the New River Valley Bird Club have contributed a total of $1,500 for five signs to be posted in Stadium Woods indicating the ecological significance of the site.

“Stadium Woods is a natural heritage in the heart of Virginia Tech, a home to ancestral trees, and a refuge from the urban environment for birds and humans,” said Kirwan. “If people don’t realize how special it is, it will be used for other purposes. People need to think of it as the most historic thing we have in our community, more historic than any building or piece of paper. It is not only historic, it is alive.”

The College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech consistently ranks among the top three programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and the environment, and instill in students a sense of stewardship, land-use ethics, and large-scale systems problem solving. Areas of study include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.
Written by Andreza Silva de Andrade, an environmental reporter from Brazil who interned with the College of Natural Resources and Environment while on a Humphrey Fellowship.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Valdivia Travelogue III

By Georgia Wyche

I’m happy and relieved to say that things have somewhat changed at UACh since my arrival and my last journal entry. Faculty members, staff and administrators are fed up with the student’s refusal to attend classes, so the president of UACh has put his foot down and has decided that the second semester will begin on November 2nd. I teach my first Applied Linguistics class on November 2nd, so I’m very curious to see what will happen.

The Chilean students seem stubborn and probably won’t give up their fight until they feel their voices are heard. Along with the second semester beginning on November 2nd, there is also a campus wide student vote on whether classes should begin or not. Regardless of the results of the student vote, the president still wants to continue with the second semester. If the students vote “no” and we continue with second semester, this just means that some students will attend classes and others will not. This whole situation is very confusing!

In the meantime, I’m still teaching English classes to professors and honors students in the morning in the Virginia Tech/UACh center. Then, I spend the afternoon working with professors in the English pedagogy department. I’ve been working with Ms. Yasna Yilorm, an English pedagogy professor and supervisor to student teachers. During the strike, I’ve been going with Ms. Yilorn to different schools in Valdivia to observe UACh student teachers teaching English. It’s been an interesting experience because I’ve been able to observe both private and public schools. From my observations, I can tell that there is a huge division between socioeconomic classes in private and public schools. I’ve also noticed that there is a big problem with classroom management and that the class sizes are outrageous in both private and public. For example, the average class size of a public school English class in Chile is approximately 45 students. The student teacher’s biggest complaint is learning how to better manage their classroom and their students. Ms. Yilorn and I are working with the student teachers and specifically giving them guidance on classroom management.

Lately, we have had several faculty meetings in the English pedagogy department in preparation for the second semester. The end is near! I’m ready to finally teach Applied Linguistics. I’ll be teaching to students in their last year to become English teachers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since my arrival to Valdivia, I’ve been preparing for the Applied Linguistic classes. Unfortunately, none of the students attended classes on November 2nd because of the campus wide vote.

Update: Well, the results of the student vote are in and I’m glad to say that the students voted “yes”. This means that the students want to begin the second semester. I feel more relieved and look forward to teaching and meeting all of my applied linguistics students next Tuesday.