UW-Platteville faculty, students to map Sinsinawa Mound

March 12, 2011

PLATTEVILLE - This April, using handheld Trimble Juno global positioning devices, 17 University of Wisconsin-Platteville geographic information systems students will begin a detailed base-mapping project encompassing 500 acres at Sinsinawa Mound, the home of the Sinsinawa Dominicans. In the fall, 40 more students, working from that completed base map, will begin cataloging and classifying the species found in the Mound's old growth forests, prairie remnant and wetlands, in addition to taking a closer look at the ring of pre-European Kentucky coffee trees that encircle Sinsinawa Mound itself.

Planning for the project, which was born out of a desire to connect the needs of the Mound with the resources at UW-Platteville, began months ago.

When Sister Mary Louis Russley, a resident of Sinsinawa Mound and friend of Barbara Parsons, professor emerita of philosophy at UW-Platteville, became intrigued and inspired by environmental and social justice seminars presented at the Mound, Parsons suggested she contact Dr. Richard Waugh, UW-Platteville professor of geography who had visited the location some years before to give a talk about climate change.

"Sister Mary Louis asked for guidance in developing a master plan, or a dream vision, of how Sinsinawa Mound would look in five, 10 or 20 years with a focus on service and sustainability," Waugh said.

As Waugh and Louis toured the grounds and she explained her vision for the area, Waugh realized that given the size and scope of the project, it would be beneficial to bring Dr. Evan Larson and Dr. RJ Rowley, both UW-Platteville assistant professors of geography, on board.

"Evan is a very talented biogeographer with a knowledge of forest ecology, and RJ is an expert in GIS and sustainability," Waugh said. "I knew this would be a great way for them to get their students involved."

Rowley and his GIS students are set to begin their portion of the project in April with a focus on field mapping and data collection, working with a partner in need, compiling and presenting the product of the work requested by the partner, seeing a project through from start to finish and presenting their work to outside groups.

"The people at Sinsinawa are an important part of the broader Platteville and Southwest Wisconsin community and the desire to have the mapping done and our hope to find such a project for our students fit together nicely," said Rowley.

Larson said that once the base map is complete, he and his students, which are expected to number more than 40, will visit the location to begin classifying the species found there.

"What is neat about this project is that it offers a diversity of vegetation that is reflective of the Driftless Region and it also emphasizes field experience for students," he said. "Sinsinawa Mound is a beautiful biogeographic anomaly for this area. The forests there are old, very old, yet there are actually more forests there now than there were historically."

Waugh added that it is important for students to get a vision outside of campus and understand that they are part of that. “This project gives them something useful to take away with them,” he said.

As part of the fall project, Larson’s students will not only mark where everything is, but will also develop signage materials to show how these plant communities looked in the past. He added that there may be opportunities for faculty and students from the biology and reclamation fields to participate in various aspects of the project as well.

“There are all kinds of possibilities down here and there are wonderful opportunities for students,” Louis said, who added that she was happy that this project would give more visibility to outreach programs available through UW-Platteville. “This is a really good partnership and I’m very excited about it.”

The project has also received funding through the UW-Platteville Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, which provides financial and other support of student engagement, service learning and other community-based projects as well as a way for community and campus entities to meet, plan and coordinate resources for the mutual benefit of each other, according to the PACCE website.

Contact: Dr. Richard Waugh, professor, UW-Platteville Department of Social Sciences, (608) 342-1386,waugh@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Barbara Weinbrenner, communications specialist, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, weinbreb@uwplatt.edu

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