PSU Environmental Science Students Study Changes in Loon Population

December 10th, 2007 by Adam

PLYMOUTH, N.H.–Applying mathematics to real world problems is one of the best ways for students to see how classroom skills can be used. Plymouth State University’s Center for the Environment has teamed up with the Mathematics Department and the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) in Moultonborough, N.H. to create a course to do just this.

The Center wanted to provide a quantitative skills course as part of their master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy program, offered in conjunction with PSU’s College of Graduate Studies. Working with Tom Boucher, assistant professor of statistics, the idea for a course using a regional data set from the LPC was developed. The course, Loon Population Modeling, is designed to give students skills in quantitative ecology, population ecology, and population modeling. It is jointly offered to upper class undergraduates.

“The applied nature of the course is part of the intrigue,” said Boucher. “The students are working with real environmental data from the region. It has been challenging, but a lot of fun to teach. In addition, our undergraduate students are interacting with graduate students, exposing them to new opportunities.”

The LPC has the largest set of data about loons in the country. The chance for environmental science and policy students to use original data in a course helps them learn how an organization can use these data for making environmental management and policy decisions. It also helps the LPC with analysis of their data. Harry Vogel, executive director of the LPC, said, “We have been working closely with Tom Boucher and the students on this course, and are very pleased with the energy and insight they have brought to bear on these analysis. The work these students are doing will help the LPC in understanding New Hampshire’s loon population, the challenges loons are facing, and ways we can help loons thrive throughout the state and the region.”

Student Chris Conrod is excited about the course, noting, “This has been a rare and fascinating opportunity: working on a real-world ecological challenge in my own back yard, using a robust time series dataset.”

Classmate Mo Goodnow agrees, stating, “This course melds critical ecological thinking and statistical analyses and from an ecologist’s point of view, I have been learning and better understand statistics and what it can do because of the constant application to the real data.”

The partnership between the Mathematics Department, the LPC, and the Center for the Environment is also an excellent example of how the Center’s work engages the mission of PSU as a regional university. Other courses have been developed that integrate regional issues into the classroom. For example, a Land Use Seminar conducted a review of the Town of Holderness’s land use regulations, a course in Environmental Consulting provided an environmental assessment for New Hampton School, and hydrology courses have traveled to Tuckerman Ravine to study snow and Waterville Valley to observe a water pumping test.

Loon photo image by Stephen Kirkpatrick, courtesy of the Loon Preservation Committee

For more information about the Center and the MS in Environmental Science and Policy, visit

For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or