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The Arboretum: A 104-Acre Outdoor Learning Lab

Generations of students have benefited from experiences conducting independent research with faculty in Wesleyan’s Division of Natural Science. Faculty often take students to scientific meetings where they present their findings to the larger scientific community, giving Wesleyan students a measurable advantage when they apply to graduate or professional programs.

According to Biology Professor and Arboretum Director Dr. Jim Ferrari, “Experiential learning is very important, especially for students in the sciences. There is a key action step in science - the experiment. You can’t just read about someone else’s experiment and get better at it yourself. Students have to get in the game and design their own research projects, learn from their failures, and get encouragement and gratification from their successes.”

As an ecologist, Ferrari considers Wesleyan’s 104-acre arboretum a tremendous resource for research and education. When teaching the carbon cycle, he takes students to the same place Wesleyannes have been measuring carbon storage for nearly ten years. “We map and measure trees, examine the soil and dead wood, and weigh leaf litter-fall. Based on all those measurements, we then estimate how much carbon is stored in the woods. Students get to know the forest and bond with it in a sense. The abstract and the hypothetical become concrete and relatable, and as a result, students can learn more effectively.”

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