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Sauvie Island, PSU studentscraft guide for island trail

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Seventh-grader Waylon Berry, right, looks for a hawk overhead through a pair of binoculars, while Jessica Almanza, left, and Cailyn Tindall talk to a teacher in front of them. The students talked about how hawks have different physical features that make them adaptable to different situations. Students at Sauvie Island Academy and Portland State University have been partnering for nearly three months to develop a specialty trail guide for hikers and visitors to Oak Island Nature Trail.

A group of seventh-graders in Brittany Korfel’s seventh-grade class at SIA worked with college seniors enrolled in PSU’s Interpreting Wildlife Areas and Refuges course to place signposts along the nature trail, Thursday, June 2, after spending two-and-a-half months developing a biomimicry trail guide.

The two groups also worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to establish markings on the Sauvie Island trail, which is a 2.5-mile hiking loop on Oak Island, a peninsula located between Sturgeon and Steelman lakes.

Biomimicry is defined as the process of creating or developing technology based on natural principles, or copying natural phenomena. The biomimicry trail guide features short descriptions of natural features on the trail alongside photos and descriptions of inventions created by the seventh-grade students based on those features.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Ginny Stern, a professor at Portland State University, talks to a group of students on the Oak Island Trail in April about different types of flora and fauna along the trail. The students took notes during the walk about what they encountered.Ginny Stern, a professor at PSU who is teaching the college class, said the students are using nature’s features to come up with solutions to a wide variety of problems. Nature is one of the best mentors when it comes to adapting to change, she said.

“When you realize that nature has been doing this for three billion years ... and has been doing this for so long without destroying it, it’s had a lot of practice,” Stern said.

After two early morning hikes on Oak Island in April, the seventh-grade students worked in teams to develop invention ideas based on their observations.

“The intent is to get people out into nature and ask nature how to work on our problems, and nature has had a lot of practice,” Stern said.

Students tackled everything from developing more effective search-and-rescue techniques by crafting hats based on barn owl facial features to enhance hearing, to preventing concussions by modeling helmets after woodpeckers’ skeletal cushioning.

“I like listening to their ideas,” Brittany Pitzer, a biology major in the PSU class, said. “Because they’re so young, they haven’t learned all of society’s ‘nos’ yet, so their inventions are a lot more creative.”

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Brittany Pitzer, a biology major, walks with seventh-graders Elle Stephenson, Talia Richley, Grace Cross, Ella Guffey in late April. Pitzer said she was impressed by the younger students' knowledge about various aspects of nature. For the seniors at PSU, the capstone class offers the opportunity to conclude their undergraduate collegiate study with a class that emphasizes building community relationships and the importance of wildlife education.

PSU students Ariel Chrisman and Scott Rayner, both biology majors with interests in wildlife conservation, said the class taught them how to tie education and conservation efforts together.

SIA students said they also enjoyed learning from older students who have had more educational experiences.

“We’ve never really gotten to do anything like this, working with older people, and I think they just have so much experience and we can learn from them and they can learn from us, which is really interesting,” Grace Cross, a seventh-grader, said.

The younger students said they’ve enjoyed getting to share information with the older students. The PSU students said they have also been impressed by the seventh-graders’ knowledge as well.

Pitzer said she was impressed when a SIA student taught her about oak galls, which are protective scab-like shells on leaves created by wasps to protect their egg larva.

The partnership between the PSU and SIA students has been a great learning opportunity and has brought a sense of consistency to the school week, Korfel said. It’s also given the younger students a sense of pride to work with college-aged students, she added.

“They are really invested because the work they are doing is real. They had to apply as a class to do this project,” Korfel said. “It takes a special kind of person willing to go into uncharted territory to come up with ideas for solutions and ways of thinking differently about big ideas like access to water, homelessness, and efficient transportation.”

Last week the class held a celebration at the trailhead to wrap up the months-long project. A large sign describing the trail guide now stands at the beginning of the nature trail loop, for all visitors to use.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - An explanatory sign is now posted at the trailhead of the Oak Island Nature Trail describing the biomimicry guide and how to use it. Students from Portland State University helped design the sign using illustrations sketched by seventh-graders at Sauvie Island Academy.

If you go

To see the biomimicry trail guide, visit the Oak Island Trail on Sauvie Island, west of Sturgeon Lake. A sign

describing the biomimicry trail guide and how to interact with it on a smart phone will be posted there. Visitors can download a QR code scanner app Åor use the website, www.mirrorofnature.bigwhisper.com, to interact with the trail guide while hiking.