Biology students study the Puget Sound

"Protecting the area’s resources and practicing them wisely is a natural fit for our University, in particular our Benedictine value of stewardship."

Mary Jo Hartman
College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Biology

Here on Washington’s Puget Sound, living, studying and playing in a scenic wonderland like ours is a privilege – and carries with it a responsibility to help protect it.

One of the Benedictine values that guides Saint Martin’s is stewardship: caring for and protecting our environment, not only for our own well-being but also for the well-being of future generations. In the field course “Sound Learning Communities,” Mary Jo Hartman, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, explored South Puget Sound and the need for stewardship in our own community.

Puget Sound is in danger. The  myriad people attracted by the area’s liveability now pose a threat to many of those very same qualities they love best. With the population approaching 4.5 million and expected to grow yet larger, habitat is being lost, water and air quality are deteriorating and land is being paved over at a phenomenal rate.

Hartman was one of four Saint Martin’s faculty who devoted one week to learning about the local resources that could help students understand the risks facing the Puget Sound ecosystem, as well as efforts—large scale and individual—to lessen those risks.

The class toured downstream regions like Budd Inlet, one of the fingers of water that touches Olympia. They visited upstream areas, such as the University of Washington’s Center for Sustainable Forestry at the base of Mount Rainier. They also heard from people directly affected by water quality issues, and from members of the Squaxin Island Tribe, who shared their tribal history and their own concerns for the region.

Hartman, who grew up on an Iowa dairy farm, has always enjoyed biology and the joy of watching students get excited about what they’re learning. Her knowledge of the Puget Sound ecosystem will help enrich not only her courses but also her students’ field work in marine biology, field ecology and environmental science.

Because Saint Martin's is small, Hartman notes, the biology faculty gets to offer what few schools can: individual attention and lots of hands-on experience, especially on senior projects. “Besides teaching our individual courses, I think it's the best thing we do in the biology department,” she comments. A biology major graduates having designed and performed all stages of an individual research project. After “Sound Learning Communities,” Hartman knows where to look for local resources that will help students understand the environmental concerns in Puget Sound and their own responsibility to help protect this iconic region of the Pacific Northwest.

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