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Miner Institute and SUNY Plattsburgh's Environmental Science Program Celebrate 40-Year Collaboration

As an environmental science major, Joe Thouin ’04 had what you might call a Miner obsession.

Now an environmental analyst with the Lake George Park Commission, Thouin spoke about that obsession at the 40th-anniversary celebration of the Applied Environmental Science Program at the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy this December.

“Like my first helping at Thanksgiving dinner, just one semester at Miner would not be enough for me,” said Thouin, who spent a summer at the institute his sophomore year, returned junior year for the AESP and then lived at Miner his entire senior year. “I didn’t want to leave.”

Flexibility, Experience in Outdoor Lab

The facility makes a huge difference in the lives of students, according to Dr. Robert Fuller, director of earth and environmental science who teaches the soil science course at Miner.

The 8,000-acre Miner Institute offers students the opportunity to live on-site, with a residence, dining hall and library in addition to research facilities. Offered only in the fall, AESP classes are a full day rather than three hours a week. Some faculty members divide the eight-hour class period into two sections: lab work or lecture in the morning and field work in the afternoon. Others create a schedule dependent on the work they’re doing at any given time.

Dr. Danielle Garneau, who teaches wildlife ecology and management, said the model works well.

“It gives us the opportunity and flexibility necessary to learn how to trap, how to handle, how to mark and record the data while in the field,” she said. “We can then return to the lab for that component, and do the analysis all before the end of their school day. The Miner students leave there with a massive skill set.”

‘The First Time I Felt I Belonged’

For National Park Service Ranger Elizabeth Rogers ’07, the program at Miner was “a gift.”

She said her time at Miner “was the first time I felt I belonged — in my major, with my peers and in that beautiful place at that time. … I wasn’t just learning about the environment; I was learning about my environment.”

Beyond Classroom Walls

The program is “successful because it extends beyond the classroom walls,” Thouin said. He recounted his first stream-gauging experience wading and working downstream from a wastewater treatment plant outfall pipe.

“And you know what? If you can bear a crude colloquialism, my peers and I were happier than a pig in shinola,” he said. “I repeated those stream-gauging skills hundreds of times as I contributed to scientific research projects both here at Plattsburgh and in graduate school.”

“Learning how to do forest ecology, soil and wildlife ecology — those are all part of the same foundation. Those skills are so marketable,” Garneau said.

“It’s unique in the SUNY system,” Fuller said. “This program is something special, a true immersion experience. Students live, eat and breathe environmental science at Miner.”

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