Encyclopedia of Earth Publishes Student Work

Posted: November 20, 2008

She won't graduate from Mount Holyoke for another several months, but Beth Lariviere FP '09 already has her first publication listings for her future CV.

As a student last spring in visiting lecturer Emily Monosson's environmental studies course, Lariviere submitted two research papers to Encyclopedia of Earth, a relatively new Web site designed to serve as an electronic reference about the Earth and its natural environment. Both of Lariviere's papers--course assignments from Monosson--were recently published on the site, along with several others written by classmates from the course, as the initial entries in its Communicating Science to the Public project.

Monosson, an independent toxicologist who occasionally teaches courses at MHC, is a member of the stewardship committee for the Environmental Information Coalition, which oversees Encyclopedia of Earth. The site is intended for use by students, teachers, scholars, and professionals, and its content is written in nontechnical language that can easily be understood by the general public. Its authors are scientists and educators who have been through a review process, although anyone can apply to be a contributing writer or editor, she said.

"The site's been developing and growing, and one of our goals is to figure out how best to serve the education community," Monosson said. The Communicating Science to the Public program was "designed to teach writing, communication, literature searching, and referencing skills" to advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Each submission goes through two rounds of review.

"This was a trial to see if undergraduate students could write for EOE under faculty guidance. I was pleased with how it worked out," she said. "Our goal is to encourage other faculty to give it a try. Right now we've got an ecologist at Gonzaga State giving it a try with his senior ecology class."

Lariviere, an environmental studies major, said each of the students in Monosson's class chose one or two topics of personal interest; she decided to research and write about atrazine, a widely used herbicide, after she learned the controversial chemical--a common drinking water contaminant--had been found to feminize male amphibians.

"I did a peer review of the literature and had to come up with a well-written piece--without any opinion. That was the hard part," she said. Although atrazine has been labeled an endocrine disruptor and is found in numerous rivers and streams in concentrations above the EPA-recommended safe levels, its manufacturer has fought efforts to ban its use, she added.

In her second submission Lariviere surveyed the research literature on perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a toxic synthetic chemical used in the manufacture of a variety of common products. Now considered a likely carcinogen, its use is being phased out through an EPA stewardship program.

Lariviere, a resident of Belchertown, said she and her classmates found the experience of preparing a paper for publication valuable. She expects to have a chance to use the lessons she's learned when she pursues graduate study in environmental science and conducts her own research.

"I want to hone in on natural resource management, especially water management," she said. In the meantime, she's proud to have her work posted amid articles by accomplished Ph.D.-level scientists.

In all, nine articles written by seven MHC students were published on the EOE site, covering topics ranging from diesel pollution to the effects of nutrient loading in aquatic ecosystems. In addition to Lariviere, Salena Reynolds '08, Liz Budd '09, Clarity Guerra '09, Erinn Hasselgren '09, Haley McKey '10, and Paliza Shrestha '10 participated in the project.

Related Links:

Encyclopedia of Earth

Beth Lariviere 's EOE articles

Environmental Studies at MHC

Center for the Environment