Natural sciences turning L-wing courtyard into outdoor lab

Peter Floess

Photo courtesy of Julie Angel | Parkland College Natural Sciences Students in a landscape construction class taught by Kaizad Irani at Parkland College work on a stream model landscape in the L-wing courtyard, which will be the new earth science outdoor lab space.

Photo courtesy of Julie Angel | Parkland College Natural Sciences
Students in a landscape construction class taught by Kaizad Irani at Parkland College work on a stream model landscape in the L-wing courtyard, which will be the new earth science outdoor lab space.

Staff Writer

The courtyard in the center of the L-wing is being overhauled by the natural sciences department to create a space for students to conduct experiments in and record observations from a more genuine, outdoor setting.

Geology instructor Julie Angel says outdoor lab space will give students “the opportunity to complete lab exercises and collect data in a setting that is much closer to representing what they would see and experience in the real-world.”

An example of a class which will make use of the new space is ESC 102—Introduction to Physical Geology—which Angel teaches.

“Students complete a lab on the scientific method by observing and measuring dinosaur footprints, which is known as a ‘dinosaur trackway,’ to form a hypothesis about dinosaur behavior,” Angel said of an exercise done in said class.

Before the creation of the outdoor lab space, she said the they would tape paper outlines of dinosaur footprints to the floor along the second floor L-wing corridor.

“Now we have the opportunity to enhance student learning by molding casts of dinosaur footprints and permanently placing them in the outdoor earth science lab,” Angel said.

Angel also teaches an introduction to weather course, ESC 101. This course will also find use in the new courtyard.

“With the installation of our own weather station…we can collect and use real-time data for those labs, making the lab experience much more meaningful for Parkland students,” she said.

The first phase of the courtyard overhaul has been completed, with landscape construction students building a stream model in the new space.

During the summer, Parkland Students for Sustainability, a club organized by Sustainability Coordinator Thor Peterson, will put their weight into the project, helping to prepare and maintain the micro-scale ecosystem. In the fall semester, biology students will follow up and plant native Illinois flora in the courtyard.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to create a landscaping scheme that achieves multiple goals: a learning opportunity for geology and horticulture students; an example of how landscape elements can slow, detain and cleanse storm water; and a low-maintenance, beautiful landscape that enhances the campus,” Petersen said.

According to natural science department chair Scott Siechen, because the project has been tackled by students as part of their course and club work its cost has been “greatly offset.”

Siechen says the outdoor lab will only help to improve Parkland’s “already excellent earth science courses.”

The project is in honor of late earth sciences coordinator Dean Timme. Timme taught at Parkland for 43 years.

David Leake, an instructor and the director of Staerkel Planetarium, is involved in the fundraising side of the project.

Leake says Timme was a close friend of his and, following the latter’s passing, the department wanted to do something to honor and remember him.

Leake believes the Dean Timme Earth Science Outdoor Lab Space is a “fitting legacy to him.”

“Dean was a great guy who had the students’ interest front and center,” Leake said. “It was amazing to me the things he did for students, most of it for no extra pay, just so they had an opportunity to learn.”

“He would dearly love this project. It has been my pleasure to be involved in it,” he said.