Students Learn How to Keep It Green

By Martha Hunter Shepard ’66


Students in Rhodes geology instructor Carol Ekstrom’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class learn how to be great mapmakers. For their projects, they plot practically any and everything on campus. They identify locations of such things as trees, parking lots, even water lines and make a map of them or add the data to existing maps they’ve created on computer. Director of Physical Plant Brian Foshee is intrigued by the idea.

“With GIS, we could eventually map the entire campus, which would help us in our operations, particularly with the location of trees and plantings that need our attention,” Foshee says.

For his GIS project, John King ’08, a history major and earth systems minor from Austin, TX, mapped the location of all the new trees in the north portion of campus, particularly around the Paul Barret Jr. Library. First he digitized, or georectified, a campus map from 2002 to use as a base map. Then, working with a sensitive GPS unit from the University of Memphis, he was able to plot the new trees with an accuracy of less than one meter.

Stephanie Juchs ’08, a biology major from Bel Air, MD, researched and mapped how the paved areas of campus have increased from 1938 to the present. She found that currently, parking lots take up 9.2% of campus, resulting in rainwater runoff rather than ground absorption. Her conclusions:

“With increased enrollment Rhodes College has also increased the number of buildings on campus as well as the amount of paved areas. This alteration of the campus could have financial implications as legislation has been proposed in Tennessee holding property owners responsible for the detrimental effects of impervious surfaces including:

  • Fees for the increased stress on storm water management systems and increased risk of flooding
  • Fines for nonprofit source pollution
  • Fines for decreased infiltration into aquifers”

“Several years ago my environmental geology class students did environmental audits of campus,” says Ekstrom. “One group chose to look at the plants on campus to see how many of them were native ones and make recommendations. It saves water if you plant native varieties. They had an experimental garden west of the refectory and tracked how much water the plants required over a semester. They talked to James Vann, who was then a groundskeeper in Physical Plant and extremely knowledgeable. He showed them the native ones and explained how he had always made it a point to put in native plants. Physical Plant was thinking about this way ahead of time before it was the thing to do environmentally.”

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