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Rappahannock Community College

RCC goes to VIMS for hands-on course

By Tom Martin
April 21, 2014
A VIMS boat for RCC students

RCC students will have the opportunity to study “Coastal Ecology” on the VIMS research vessel Tidewater this summer.

“This class offers students the opportunity to get out of theoretical work and into the field,” says Rappahannock Community College biology instructor Lisa Tuckey. She and fellow-instructor Sally Upton will be teaching “Coastal Ecology” this summer, in the form of three weeks of online academic work and two weeks of intensive field work at the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences (VIMS) facility at Gloucester Point. Two days of that time will be spent on the water, in the VIMS research vessel Tidewater.

“ ‘Coastal Ecology’,” says Tuckey, “is a field-based biology course which explores beach, salt marsh, and estuarine ecosystems by observing and sampling local coastal plants and animals while analyzing the dynamics of coastal community structure and function.” The course will cover the effects of chemical, geological, and physical factors upon the distribution of organisms, and will include discussion of the effects of pollution and human manipulation of the coastline. Students will observe and identify coastal plants and animals, and will evaluate the dynamics of coastal community structure and function.

During the field portion of the class, students will learn the skills necessary to perform proper field testing. They will analyze water quality along different coastal habitats to determine its salinity, its temperature, and the organic materials it contains, bringing their samples back to the VIMS lab for analysis. These tests will yield data indicating the health of the eco-system, and will help define the least harmful ways to harvest the resources of the Chesapeake Bay.

Tuckey holds the degrees of bachelor of science in biology and German language and literature from the University of Binghamton (New York) and master of science in marine biology from the University of Charleston. She joined RCC in August 2010, teaching general biology, and anatomy and physiology; previously she had taught the same subjects at Thomas Nelson Community College and Gulf Coast Community College (Florida). However, the majority of her work has been in field research, mostly on fresh- and saltwater environmental issues. She has also written or contributed to articles in the Journal of Applied Aquaculture and the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society.

Sally Upton holds the degrees of bachelor of science in biology from the College of Idaho, and master of science in marine science (with emphasis in fisheries science) from VIMS. While a graduate student and then a research assistant at VIMS, she worked on many different research projects investigating the habitats and organisms of coastal Virginia. She has held the position of education specialist with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, as well as that of an extension assistant professor at Utah State University. There she directed an environmental education program focusing on Swaner Nature Preserve, which protects a rare high-altitude wetland habitat.

“Coastal science is a very important field of study,” notes Upton, “as much of the world’s population resides along the coasts, and the coastal environment is very important to the world’s economy and industry.” She adds, “This course will be very ‘hands-on,’ interactive — and fun!”

The class begins on Tuesday, June 24, and field testing will occur July 14-17 and July 21-24. To ensure that travel difficulties do not keep anyone interested in the program from participating, RCC will provide transportation from the Warsaw and Glenns Campuses to the VIMS facility. The VIMS Office of Academic Studies has generously agreed to cover costs related to the use of the Tidewater for this Summer 2014 pilot course. For more information, please call Tuckey at 804-758-6773, or e-mail her at

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