Environmental Science Honors Program
Environmental Science Honors Program
This program consists of three research- and field-oriented courses within the Biodiversity Study Program that provide a rich undergraduate experience, emphasizing academic excellence and research exploration for academically gifted students.This program provides an additional 15 units of specialized study and scholarly research beyond the original degree requirements which allows graduates to have special recognition upon graduation.
For the additional 15 units that are required, choose from the following:
- ESCI 442 Field Research in Ecology (5 units)
- ESCI 497 Research Assistantship in the Environmental Science (up to 2 semesters at 5 units each).
- BIOL 495 Molecular Methods (5 units)
Students taking these courses will participate directly in the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Megatransect research (see below). Students may choose to enroll separately in the field course on the PCT (ESCI 442 Field Research in Ecology, see course description below), or either of the other two courses (ESCI 497 Research Assistantship, BIOL 495 Molecular Methods) and students may apply these courses as upper division credit toward their degree at their respective institutions. Students may also choose to enroll in the complete Honors Program (15 additional semester units beyond the student’s original degree requirements). See below for course requirements for the Honors Program.
The field course on the PCT (ESCI 442) is open to both WJU and non-WJU students across majors (both science and non-science majors) of good academic standing and who have good observation skills, a desire for adventure, ability to work in a wilderness setting, and a passion for science (see application materials for students qualifications). The Honors Program is also open to WJU and non-WJU students across majors in natural sciences (e.g., environmental science, biology, etc.).
About the Pacific Crest Trail Biodiversity Megatransect Undergraduate Research Program
The PCT is a continuous hiking trail that runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border along the mountain ranges of California, Oregon, and Washington (2,650 miles long). The PCT Biodiversity Megatransect is an ongoing study that has been developed for over 10 years by Dr. Michael McGrann, Chair of the Environmental Science Department, in collaboration with faculty and ecologists from outside universities. Dr. McGrann has now incorporated this research into the undergraduate honors program in the Environmental Science Department. Other disciplines can participate, including those within and outside the natural and applied sciences (e.g., biological sciences, computer science, social sciences, public policy, business, and the humanities). The goal of this project is to track the population trends and distributions of hundreds of wildlife species, and their habitats, along the PCT.
This is a 6-week upper-division course in the Environmental Science Department at William Jessup University (ESCI 442 Field Studies in Ecology-5 units). This course provides students with hands-on training in the field while participating in an actual ecological study and biodiversity monitoring program. The course will also provide rigorous study of the natural history and ecology of the Pacific cordillera. Students will learn wildlife survey techniques under the close mentorship and guidance of collaborating faculty and professional field biologists.
Background and Development of the PCT Megatransect Concept
In 2006, Dr. McGrann and his wife, Amy, completed a mega-transect of the entire Pacific Crest Trail in California for their graduate work. The McGranns surveyed birds and their habitats and completed 5-minute counts of birds and rapid habitat assessments on 3,578 plots along 1,700 miles of the PCT in California. These plots were systematically established at 10-minute hiking intervals along the PCT. This work was completed in a single season between April and August.
In 2010, Dr. McGrann collaborated with Dr. Brett Furnas (Senior Environmental Scientist with CDFW) and revisited over 400 of the plots established in 2006 along about 700 miles of the PCT in northern California. In addition to conducting point counts and habitat assessments at each plot, the researchers temporarily (for three consecutive days) deployed devices that recorded the singing bird community along the PCT.
In 2015, Dr. McGrann collaborated again with Houghton College’s Aaron Sullivan and Asbury University’s Ben Brammel to collect eDNA from streams, ponds, or lakes to detect aquatic vertebrates of conservation concern along the PCT. He revisited about 40 sites along 70 miles in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national park.
In 2016, Dr. McGrann, faculty, and 6 students from 4 different universities (William Jessup University, Asbury University, Wheaton College, and Houghton College) revisited over 300 sites using a combination of point count surveys for birds and eDNA.
“Being able to do field research that combined long-distance hiking and an opportunity to explore the surrounding natural world was an incredible experience. I learned a lot in so many different areas and was able to explore God’s creation in a different way. There were many challenging components that made this experience difficult and allowed me to push myself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, but having completed this program, I feel stronger in these areas. It has also given me a hands-on taste of fieldwork and clarified for me that this is something I hope to being doing in the future. Overall, although this fieldwork was sometimes difficult and uncomfortable, I had so much fun, had once in a lifetime experiences, and would love to do it again.”
– Emilia Gildemeister
“The PCT Biodiversity Megatransect project was overall an incredible experience which not only introduced me to authentic field research in ecology but also exposed me to the adventure of backpacking. Although the data collection seemed negligible at times and the project was long and physically and emotionally demanding, hiking in the Klamath mountain regions opened my eyes to some of the most amazing views of God’s brilliant creation. Waking up at 5 am every day, sometimes in just above freezing temperatures, to start the research was definitely a challenge. However, watching the sun creep up over the seemingly endless mountains, trying to absorb its vivid and diverse colors, and feeling it’s warmth made me nothing but grateful to be alive in those places at those times. Hiking almost 200 miles gave me a lot of time to be in the presence of God, to pray for people in my life and to thank the Lord for His provision, faithfulness, and magnificent natural wonders. I found an internal alignment being surrounded by wilderness, nothing manmade, having to rely on the environment for sustenance, especially when finding and pumping water out of streams and springs. Getting away from the distractions of everyday life and communication with family and friends allowed me to think more clearly about areas of my life that God might be whispering to me about. I feel blessed I was offered this outstanding opportunity to live more naturally, accomplish my first backpacking trip and be just a small part of a potentially greater contribution to science and conservation efforts in California and ultimately God’s great earth.”
“Over the course of the 17 days that I spent along the Pacific Crest Trail, I changed in ways that no other experience could have changed me. The hurdles that I jumped ranged from the physical stressors of hiking 13 miles a day to the emotional/mental of relying on nature to provide for my needs. In taking the course, I fully understood the requirements of the trip and what was expected of me from every avenue, but realizing and experiencing are two very different words. Maintaining a positive and uplifting attitude came naturally to me yet the physical demands were more of a challenge. God has an uncanny way of creating so much good and giving His aid when we need to be helped…which I needed for growth. I grew mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically over this field season as I collected data which was a part of something much larger than me. I sought to glorify God in all I did and wanted to give Him all the credit because I needed Him to walk with me…every step. I have been so blessed by this opportunity to collect data and see the amazing wonders only the Greater Being could create. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the outdoors and has a knack or interest in Ecology. Definitely one of the greatest achievements of my life!”
“The opportunity that I had this summer to participate in the PCT Megatransect proved to be a pivotal moment in my college career. The unique combination of practical field work and natural setting not only sharpened my observational skills and ignited my intellectual appetite but also created an environment that stimulated my growth as a person, spiritually and emotionally. Having hiked my fair share of miles, entering into a wilderness setting is no novelty, but the addition of field work allowed for a level of closeness with the natural world that I have not experienced before. The experience of taking time to observe my surroundings at regular intervals has given me an invaluable perspective that has the potential to be applied to so many other areas of life than just this trip. In addition to the natural environment taking on a new feel, the “classroom” took on a new feel as well. Most courses, given their limited time and space, never approach the level of intimacy reached by our team during our excursion in the woods. You can be certain that spending such extended periods of time with the same individuals comes with its own set of challenges, but that is precisely what made it so much more rewarding on an interpersonal and spiritual level. The abilities to be able to handle situations with a level head and to deal with others in the same way are invaluable life skills that I came to understand at a deeper level through this excursion. Again and again, this trip has proven to be a God ordained happening in my life, and I’m very excited to see how He guides the program in the future.”