Science, Poetics, and Immersive Field Ecology

Generating New Knowledge Through Interdisciplinary Inquiry


  • Karin R. Gastreich Avila University
  • Amy E. Milakovic Avila University



Human-nature relations, STEM education, STEAM education, interdisciplinary education, transdisciplinary education, experiential education


Complex global challenges and declining scientific literacy demand novel approaches to engaging students with science and the natural world. While evidence supports integrating creative and scientific modes of inquiry, these approaches are often separated in undergraduate education. We designed Ecology Through the Writer’s Lens (ETWL) to allow students to explore an ecosystem of critical importance, the tall grass prairie, through an interdisciplinary field experience. Co-taught by Biology and English professors and open to students of all majors, ETWL leverages classroom activities to prepare for and process the immersive field experience over the course of one semester. Field-based exercises include natural history observations, hypothesis building, experimental design, analysis of the literature, and creative/reflective writing. Learning was assessed through multiple assignments, including a final creative project that spanned diverse writing genres. Students met and exceeded expectations with respect to course objectives. Non-science majors learned how scientific knowledge is generated; science majors learned how creative approaches can open new pathways for exploration. Many students overcame fear of natural spaces. Several students independently engaged with tall grass prairie in post-course activities. We conclude that interdisciplinary approaches to field-based inquiry can generate transformative experiences, even when the immersive component is short-term and close to home. ETWL provides one model by which different modes of inquiry can be blended to enhance student appreciation of science, literature, and the environment.