Honors Students Spend "A Month on the Coast"
Dr. Sherwood “Woody” Gagliano speaks as part of the Month on the Coast Speaker Series. Photo Courtesy of Martin McCallister
Before the 2009 incoming class of Honors Students pulled their first all-nighter, before their first biology lab report was due, before they even knew the best places to buy books, they were engaged in a dialog about one of the most important issues facing the future of Louisiana, coastal erosion. This summer’s Honors Shared Read Program, in conjunction with Honors Convocation, HNRS 2000, and, most recently, the Month on the Coast Speaker Series, has challenged Honors students to ask themselves, each other, and some experts in the field of wetland research, “what has been done and what can be done to save Louisiana’s Coast?”
Prior to arriving on campus, new LSU Honors Students participated in the Honors Shared Read Program by reading Mike Tidwell’s book, “Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast.” On August 26th, these same students were welcomed to campus by Mike Tidwell himself, who addressed the class of 2013 on the importance of coastal restoration in Louisiana. Tidwell’s book was additionally selected as a common text for all 17 sections of the fall Honors class, HNRS 2000, a course designed in the wake of hurricane Katrina to provide an academic treatment of human responses to natural disasters and disease. In conjunction with the Honors Shared Read, Honors Convocation, and HNRS 2000, the Honors College sponsored the Month on the Coast Speaker Series, weekly presentations of three wetlands researchers featured in Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell. The series included Dr. Sherwood “Woody” Gagliano, Dr. Denise Reed, and Kerry St. Pe. The events were held in the Lobby of East Laville Hall, home of the Honors House living learning community with over 75 students from all majors attending each week’s event.
Each speaker represented a range of professional experiences related to wetland research and each had varying views on the challenges facing that state. “Woody” Gagliano, the first scientist to formally document land loss in coastal Louisiana, equipped the Honors students with facts about the severity of the problem and outlined his proposed restoration plan, which includes a series of large divergences from the Mississippi River to rebuild land and restore the area’s natural salinity. Denise Reed, Interim Director of Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences, encouraged students to look beyond catchy statistics used to sensationalize coastal land loss and seek out the complexities of coastal erosion. Reed emphasized that Louisiana doesn’t literally lose a football field of coast every half hour but that this process happens in a complex series of “fits and starts.” Kerry St. Pe, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, diverged from Dr. Gagliano’s suggestions detailing his plan to force sediment through a large pipeline network to very specific areas that would garner the most benefit.
Students who attended the presentations indicated that they now see this issue in a different light and feel challenged by its complexity. Freshmen Andy Russell had this to say about his first experiences as an LSU Honors College student, “Before reading Bayou Farewell, I had never even heard of the problem. The Honors College speaker series, in addition to class discussions on the topic, has prompted me to action.”