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STANFORD -- For students who use wheelchairs or leg braces, the idea of signing up for an introductory geology class - with field trips through steep, rugged terrain - can be more than a little daunting.

Thanks to an innovative Stanford graduate student, though, their path may be a little smoother.

Michele Cooke, a doctoral student in geology, has designed two new field trips for Stanford's Geology 1 course that allow mobility-impaired students - some for the first time in their lives - to get up close and personal with geologic phenomena.

"The teaching of introductory earth science doesn't require arduous treks," Cooke said. "Most basic geologic relationships can be observed in nearby accessible roadcuts."

Cooke, who has a hearing impairment, decided to develop the accessible trips last year, after being told by other disabled students of uncomfortable experiences on geology field trips.

"The students found the existing trips inaccessible and the instructors unwilling to change them," she said.

Cooke mapped out two new excursions - one, an afternoon lab that teaches sedimentary deposition, erosion and geologic time; and the other, an all-day trip investigating geological relationships, such as faulting and folding, in the Marin headlands, San Francisco and the northern San Francisco Peninsula. Head teaching assistant Kai Anderson helped prepare the labs for their debut this winter.

The new trips allow mobility-impaired students to see, and often touch, all the same types of geological features that previous trips covered, but from far more accessible locations.

"I enjoyed geoscience in high school, but I could never go on the field trips - I had to design my own projects," said sophomore Bliss Temple, who has used a wheelchair since a basketball injury in her teens.

"Since my accident, I've had trouble finding places outdoors that I can get to - there's so much mud, grass and rocks that it's just not fun. If I hadn't been sure that these labs would be accessible, I probably would have skipped geology at Stanford altogether."

In addition to the accessible trips, another teaching assistant, Steve Forrest, has developed an indoor lab to teach students how to draw geologic maps, using rock samples that display clear bedding or formational contacts.

Cooke also has developed a teaching guide for earth science professors, giving them tips on how to be responsive to the needs of students with sensory impairments, mobility impairments, learning disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Professors should encourage their students "to let them know if they have concerns about the class because of a permanent or temporary disability," Cooke said. Professors also should take care to verbally describe slides and other projected figures, to face the class when talking, to repeat student questions out loud for everyone and to accompany lectures with printed notes.

-tmj/geology field trips-


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