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Service & Learning Activities

Long-term research in forest ecosystems: Old-growth forests of Yosemite National Park

2 photos show a group of researchers smiling in a mountainous setting, the other is a group of researchers wearing hardhats and other gear in a burned out forest setting.

The Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot is a 25.6-hectare (63.3 acre) permanent sample plot in the mixed-conifer forest of Yosemite National Park, California. Featuring large, old sugar pine and an assortment of other trees, including white fir, incense-cedar, and California black oak, it is an ideal place to study changes in the forests of the Sierra Nevada.

Since 2009, Mark Swanson, SoE associate professor, has been joining project founder Jim Lutz (Utah State University) and Andrew J. Larson (University of Montana) annually to remeasure the plot, monitoring tree growth and mortality, changes in down woody debris and snags, overall fuel loading, understory vegetation, and more. The three scientists have been assisted in this work by many undergraduate and graduate students, for whom the YFDP has served as a tremendous opportunity to learn forest ecology through the work of monitoring.

“The YFDP is divided into 640 quadrats, each 20 m by 20 m. As teams of students, led by senior graduate students or a plot co-PI, remeasure each quadrat, measuring tree growth or noting a tree mortality and its causes, they come to a deeper understanding of forest dynamics through repetition. Furthermore, each day presents many opportunities to learn about all aspects of forest ecology, from how the soils govern the spatial distribution of tree species to how different bird species use different structures in the forest,” says Swanson. “It is an incomparable learning opportunity, while conducting rigorous science.”

The plot burned during the 2013 Rim Fire, giving the team an unprecedented look into fire effects on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. There are also opportunities to visit iconic locations like Yosemite Valley and various groves of giant sequoia, where discussions are held on topics including geology, human history, wildlife ecology, disturbance ecology, and restoration ecology. The trip, held every May after the end of the spring semester, is available to WSU students through SOE 420 “Long-term Research in Forest Ecosystems: Old-growth Forests of Yosemite National Park.”

A gallery of past trip participants can be found at the YFDP website under the “People” tab.

Summer 2015 Students checking on fallen trees Fuels Crew Two students in forestry gear on a tree  Picture of the Summer 2018 Students

Faculty-Led Ireland – Exploring the History, Culture, and Environment

This is an SoE summer program lead by Matt Carroll and Kara Whitman. Students learn about the history, culture, and environmental management in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland​.

Each summer 18+ WSU students earn 3 credits while fulfilling a UCORE SoE diversity requirement and exploring the island of Ireland.



  • Learn about history and politics.​
  • Learn about the Irish Troubles and the peace process.​
  • Learn about environmental management.​
  • Learn about Irish genealogical research.​
  • Learn about plantation forests and natural forest conservation.​
  • Learn about human attachment to land and resource management.​
  • Make lifelong friends and experience a different place and culture.​
  • And, ultimately, have a transformative experience. ​

Trees in Ireland  Rocks in Ireland  Sheep

Faculty-Led Ecuador – Spring Break Service Learning​

Several WSU students hold the Cougar flag beside a customized passenger "bus." This is an SoE program lead by Kara Whitman and Heather Green. Students learned about environmental stewardship and alternative approaches for sustainable livelihoods that help communities protect the local environment and water quality, and resist extractive industries such as mining, from some incredible local people in communities in either the Cloud Forest or Amazon basin of Ecuador.

Students each earn more than 40 hours of community service during this program.​

The Spring 2019 cohort of 15 SOE and other WSU students participated in service learning in the Intag Valley of Ecuador.

Key accomplishments included:​

  • 5 biodigesters built ​
  • 6 communities explored ​
  • 16 shovels hauled 
  • 37 cubic meters of dirt moved​
  • hundreds of bug bites itched
  • thousands of lessons learned. ​


SoE: Connecting Earth and Life