Explorer-in-residence puts science students to the test

Environmental science students at Plymouth University have been put through their paces on Dartmoor thanks to a new initiative that tests their powers of communication and leadership.

Around 80 undergraduates from the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences were led on a two-day expedition by renowned explorers Antony Jinman and Paul Hart and pushed to their physical and mental limits with a variety of tasks and exercises.

The expedition is part of a new module on the environmental sciences degree at the University, designed by Dr Charlotte Braungardt and Dr Alison Stokes to develop and test communication and leadership skills of second-year students.

“Environmental scientists really need to be able to develop arguments and communicate complex ideas if they’re going to engage the public and their peers once they start their careers,” said Dr Braungardt. “But many of today’s undergraduates arrive at university without having developed these important attributes – we’re trying to address that and also push our students to discover something about themselves.”
The module develops a variety of skills, including writing for science and the media, as well as communicating effectively via social media, and offers students the chance to undertake an expedition on Dartmoor.

The trip was preceded by a series of preparatory workshops and theory sessions. The students were then split into two groups and set out with Paul, an experienced Himalayan and Antarctic trekker, and Antony, Explorer-in-Residence at the University, and one of few Britons to have skied to both Geographic North and South Poles.

“During the expedition, each student was asked to lead a small team on a navigational task in difficult terrain, where they were required to put the theory into practice,” Antony said. “There was a lot of training, reflective learning and de-briefing along the way. It’s designed to really push the students physically and mentally, so that when they reflect upon the experience later, they draw great confidence from it.”
The students were even asked to work with Dartmoor Search and Rescue on a staged exercise to find a missing person, secure them upon a stretcher, and carry them to an awaiting emergency services vehicle.

Dr Alison Stokes said:

“I think what’s great about the work we’re doing is that we take advantage of the natural environment right on our doorstep. Dartmoor offers us an amazing location for scientific fieldwork as well as for exercises such as this.”

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Dartmoor leadership and communication expedition

  • Students are pushed through their paces for two days

    Dartmoor field trip

    Students are pushed through their paces for two days
  • Environmental Sciences students camping on Dartmoor

    Camping out on the moor

    Environmental Sciences students camping on Dartmoor
  • The students were required to navigate their way through some difficult terrain

    Navigating the moor

    The students were required to navigate their way through some difficult terrain
  • Polar explorer Antony Jinman was one of the leaders of the two-day trip

    Expedition

    Polar explorer Antony Jinman was one of the leaders of the two-day trip
  • The 80 students all had an opportunity to lead smaller teams and test themselves on practical exercises

    Experiential learning

    The 80 students all had an opportunity to lead smaller teams and test themselves on practical exercises