Dowler, Livecchi, Smithwick receive Gladys Snyder Education Grants

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 10:19am

Two faculty members and one Ph.D. student have been awarded Gladys Snyder Education Grants from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences for two projects using technology to enhance undergraduate learning. The purpose of Gladys Snyder Grant is to promote undergraduate instruction and student learning in the college. [Read more about Gladys Snyder below.]


The grant recipients are Lorraine Dowler, associate professor of geography and women’s studies; Crista Livecchi, Ph.D. candidate in geography; and Erica Smithwick, assistant professor of geography and ecology.


While the projects are within different subfields, they share a common thread: they facilitate activities to confront students with cognitive conflict. The cognitive conflict promotes reflection and contradicts ingrained value or knowledge systems.


Fostering emotional intelligence

Dowler and Livecchi are collaborating on a project using a blended learning approach to support the development of emotional intelligence in GEOG 124 (GS; IL) Introduction to Cultural Geography, a large lecture course designed to challenge students’ understandings of spatial norms as they relate to issues of gender, sexuality, class and race.


“For example,” Dowler explains, “in one assignment, students are asked to read the popular novel, The Help, not only to understand the racist boundary-making that marked the Jim Crow South but also to recognize unknown support systems, such as ‘white privilege’ which promoted this book as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice. By way of reading a critique by The Association of Black Women Historians, the students are asked to reconsider the popular tale of African American maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi and to make connections with those spaces in their current lives.”


The class material often generates emotional responses from students that cannot adequately be facilitated in the classroom environment, Dowler says, adding, “It is very difficult to mediate a sense of blame. When I ask students to understand privilege, often they think I'm blaming them. I often have to use examples of when I found myself being biased so they can understand how norms become so invisible to us.”


In order to accommodate discussion outside of the classroom, Dowler and Livecchi ameliorated the course to blend classroom and online components in which several undergraduate teaching interns monitor on-line discussion sections. But that was not enough.


“My hope is that the additional online modules will help answer some of the questions that the students felt uncomfortable asking or also help prompt questions they may never have thought of before,” Dowler notes.  


Storytelling and sustainability

Smithwick’s project, Parks as stories: Video learning tools to enhance landscape sustainability, is developing three video case studies for a new geography course, Global Sustainability and International Parks, anticipated to be offered as a hybrid (partly online and partly face-to-face class meetings) during spring semester 2013.


“I wanted to develop a course that builds upon the unique expertise of our entire faculty—many of whom are engaged in research related to conservation and landscape management,” Smithwick says. “The project also builds upon both college and university-level commitments to internationalization, online learning, and sustainability.”


“Through each case study, students will have an opportunity to travel virtually to a place of ecological complexity and to critically examine the issues,” Smithwick explains. “Sustainability depends as much on an understanding of ecological threats and challenges as it does on societal needs, capacity, ethics, and methodologies.”


“For example, Pennsylvania contains 20 state forests, the Allegheny National Forest, and multiple national historic sites, recreation areas, scenic trails, and memorials that are operated through the National Park Service. Yet, it is also the focus of shifting energy extraction regimes, including Marcellus Shale natural gas, wind power, and coal,” Smithwick notes, adding, “Pennsylvania is also a critical boundary between two important forest zones that are expected to shift northward under climate change; its unique topography makes it a bottleneck for species migration networks under climate change. This conflict—pressure for energy extraction and potential consequences for increasing fragmentation of priority habitat areas—makes the Pennsylvania landscape a key region for discussion about sustainability.”


The Pennsylvania video footage will be used to visualize key locations of landscape change and to engage in discussions with stakeholders in Harrisburg (e.g., NGOs) and beyond, Smithwick says. The other two video case studies will examine sustainability challenges in South Africa and in the Andes and Amazon regions of South America.


Smithwick will work with the Dutton e-Education Institute to produce the videos and design the online components.


Who was Gladys Snyder?

According to Melanie Stine in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations for the College of EMS, Gladys Snyder began contact with Penn State in 1953.  She and her husband Harry lived in Canandaigua, NY.  They visited campus many times over the years. Her interest in Penn State was related to the fact that her father John G. Miller, a successful coal, coke, and iron broker until his death in 1927, had  a deep interest in helping young men who could not have otherwise gone to college.


In 1955, The Snyders established the John G. Miller Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of Gladys's father.  The fund provides scholarship support to EMS students with a preference to first-year students.


In 1974, Mrs. Snyder created the Gladys Snyder Faculty Enrichment Fund to aid in the professional development of junior faculty members in EMS. 


In 1975, Mrs. Snyder wrote, “It is my intention to provide through my will a bequest to the University…May I add that it has given me a great sense of satisfaction to support Penn State in the past.  As a native of Central Pennsylvania and one who has been close to the mining industry, it has been a source of gratification for me to participate in this fashion.  I would like to think that the gifts I have made have been beneficial to your students and faculty.”


Over the years, Mrs. Snyder gave generously to EMS.  She passed away on March 5, 1997.    


Today, we are still receiving monies from her  bequest.