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IIHR Hosts Honors Workshop

Posted on October 6th, 2013
"Tree-hugging" students investigate the 2008 flood line evident on an oak tree. (L to R): Zach Wendland, Maddison Wignall, and Alena Newgren.

“Tree-hugging” students investigate the 2008 flood line evident on an oak tree. (L to R): Zach Wendland, Maddison Wignall, and Alena Newgren.

Maddison Wignall carefully stepped from the dock to the boat, looking down at the brown water of the Mississippi River. The boat was already loaded with other first-year honors students, laughing and talking excitedly as they prepared for an excursion on the river, led by IIHR Director Larry Weber and Doug Schnoebelen, director of the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS). As Maddison sat down with the others, she gazed around at the river, which seemed so different from this new vantage point. Tentatively, she dipped a hand in the water. “Hands-on,” the river is so much more compelling than it is on paper, Maddison thought. This is cool.

Wignall was participating in one of 16 Honors Primetime workshops held for incoming first-year honors students before the official start of classes this fall. The program, now in its fifth year, is sponsored by Honors at Iowa. It’s a great way to ease the transition to campus life, says Lindsay Marshall, honors program coordinator and assistant director of the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU). Primetime students spend three full days working closely with a small group of their peers and an instructor, focusing on an area of mutual interest.

Wignall signed up for the Primetime program hoping to make friends, settle into her new home, and network with professors. She requested a workshop in the sciences, and was assigned to the Contemporary Issues in Water Sustainability workshop at IIHR, led by Weber and Schnoebelen. Before the workshop started, Wignall says, she wasn’t particularly interested in river mechanics. But getting out on the river and experiencing the environment up close helped her develop a new appreciation.

Students in the water sustainability workshop spent a day in the classroom with Weber, learning about ecohydraulics, water sustainability, and the cutting-edge research at IIHR. A field excursion to the Swamp White Oak floodplain on the Cedar River came next, and then the students traveled to LACMRERS, set on the banks of the Mississippi near Muscatine. Students also collaborated in small groups to produce eight-minute presentations about what they had learned.

Schnoebelen is a big believer in bringing people closer to the river. He talked to the Honors Primetime students about groundwater and surface water interaction, and large river research on the Mississippi — and then they headed out onto the water. “We saw a bald eagle and a great blue heron,” Schnoebelen says. “Most of the students had not been on the Mississippi River before.” He thinks it makes a major impact to experience the river up close.

“Larry and Doug went above and beyond the expectations of the workshop,” Wignall says. “It showed their care for young students and their passion for the science.”

UI faculty members led 16 Primetime workshops this fall, focusing on a variety of subject areas that not only introduce students to the UI campus and Iowa City, but also the state of Iowa as a whole. A sampling of workshop subjects includes Destination Midwest, which introduced students to the Midwest as a refuge and a place of opportunity for immigrants and refugees; and The Visual, Language, and Performing Arts in Community, which explored aspects of identity, diversity, and inter-connectedness in Iowa City.

Honors Experiential Learning Director Andy Willard says the program’s organizers hope to inspire students to think about their experience at Iowa as a way to develop their intellectual curiosity and practical skills. Willard says Honors Primetime also encourages students to “nurture a deeper understanding of one’s discipline and self.”

For Wignall, the Honors Primetime experience was a success. She met some fun new people, networked with faculty members, and got back in the swing of school. She admits she’s unlikely to ever pursue a degree or take a class at IIHR, but she’s got new respect for the people who do. “The facility and program are exceptional, and the staff is without a doubt passionate about its work,” she says.



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