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Affiliate Profile: University of Charleston

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Harrison Randolph Hall, named for a long-time president of the College of Charleston, was originally known as the "centre building," because it was, and is, the center of the college. (Photo courtesy of the College of Charleston.)

One of the oldest colleges in the United States is one of the newest UCAR Academic Affiliates. The University of Charleston, in South Carolina, was one of three new affiliates to join UCAR this summer. (The other two are Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.) The university's representative to UCAR, Laney Mills, was instrumental in bringing the two together, and it all came about as a result of a particularly rewarding sabbatical that Mills spent at NCAR (see below).

The College of Charleston was founded in 1770; three of its founders (Thomas Heyward, Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge) were signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is the 13th oldest college in the United States and was the nation's first municipal college. The 52-acre urban campus is graced with shaded brick promenades and centuries-old homes that have been renovated into departmental offices. For the last 25 years it has been a state-supported, primarily undergraduate institution. During this time the student body has increased from approximately 400 to 9,000 students, who now come from 65 nations.

"Our undergraduate science programs are recognized as being the best in the state," says Robert Dukes, chairman of the Physics Department, which leads the state in the number of graduates. With the growth of the student body and in response to local needs, several graduate degrees have been instituted, including master's degrees in marine biology, mathematics, and public administration. In all, there are 13 graduate programs, some offered jointly with other institutions, including the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of South Carolina, and The Citadel. Recently the college's graduate programs were organized into the University of Charleston, which is part of the College of Charleston structure.

The newest addition to the graduate offerings is a master's program in environmental studies offered jointly by the University of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. The program, says Dukes, "is an outgrowth of interest within the faculty here, coupled with funding from the Department of Energy under a program focused on environmental cleanup. We got into it primarily because of our interest in atmospheric physics, which goes back nearly 15 years to when Laney and I attended a short course on atmospheric science given by Volker Mohnen and Vincent Schaefer. As a result of this we introduced an undergraduate course on atmospheric physics into our curriculum and did a little work on looking at changes in the climate of Charleston based on old records dating back to 1738. We also obtained the original records, which had been maintained at the NWS office here, and collaborated with a historian to study the impact of hurricanes on South Carolina. Thus when the word ‘environmental' was mentioned, our thoughts turned first to the atmosphere."

The aim of the program is to provide students with the interdisciplinary background necessary for dealing with environmental hazards and their remediation. It focuses on both scientific and policy issues generated by environmental hazards. The broad scope of the curriculum enables students to see how environmental science and policymaking work together. The program includes tracks in environmental science, environmental policy, and risk assessment. The environmental science track provides academic training in specific scientific disciplines-- including atmospheric physics, climatology, and remote sensing--for those planning careers in environmental science. The physics department has just added a new faculty member, B. Lee Lindner, who holds a degree in atmospheric physics from the University of Colorado, to teach in the environmental master's program.

In addition to this new program, the college's departments of geology and physics both have a long history of involving their students in undergraduate research, and nearly a dozen students have completed senior research projects in fields related to atmospheric physics. And, adds Dukes, "We have a fairly strong remote sensing group, funded by a NASA JOVE [JOint VEnture in Space Science Research] grant, housed in the Geology Department. Our atmospheric work will be coordinated with their work, which is primarily directed to coastal problems.

"One of the environmental issues of interest to those of us in Charleston as well as to the atmospheric science world is global warming and its possible effects on sea level change," Dukes continues. "Both Laney and I own houses whose first floors are less than 13 feet above mean sea level. Currently my back yard floods with a heavy rain or a spring tide. I hope this doesn't get much worse, but I'm not optimistic."

"In addition to the program in environmental studies," notes Mills, "the University of Charleston has a new and strong interest in becoming more international in its outlook, in its programs, and in its involvement. The fact that NCAR is an international crossroads and ‘hearth' for atmospheric scientists makes the new Academic Affiliate status a double bonus." For more information, contact Laney Mills (phone: 803-953-8072; Internet: millsl@ashley.cofc.edu).

Reflections on a sabbatical

by Laney Mills, College of Charleston

From fall 1993 to spring 1994, Laney Mills was at NCAR on a sabbatical leave arranged through the NCAR Advanced Study Program (ASP). Excerpts from a report Mills wrote at the end of his visit are reprinted here.

Just being at NCAR, where the names on the papers I am reading are the people I meet in the hall, is a very stimulating experience. It somehow makes a person feel that he or she is capable of far more than previous self-perceptions allowed.

This was my first sabbatical leave in over 20 years at the College of Charleston. I came as one who had been dedicated almost exclusively to high quality teaching. I had successfully taught atmospheric science physics courses and I have been a professional airplane pilot, having, of course, a vital interest in meteorology. My home school has in recent years taken a strong step in the direction of more research. Accordingly, I was seeking firsthand knowledge into the current state of the field, the techniques and methods generally in use, and the general direction of research.

To the extent that I am typical of a person visiting on sabbatical, I can now say that such a visitor has a really special set of issues to be balanced and enjoyed. Such a person has been drowning in "busyness" for a long time and brings a whole list of ideas carried around for some time that are crying to be explored. Such a person needs time to have some indirection to entertain several possible courses before actually embarking on any of them.

One of NCAR's most outstanding assets is the way in which a visitor is treated instantly as a colleague. From [ASP director] John Firor, right through all of ASP, there was a general recognition that occasional periods of indirection were a legitimate part of the sabbatical experience. One is learning as much as possible about atmospheric science and at the same time trying to shift rhythm from having students and lectures and meetings and crammed-in-research-topics to a quiet interim for contemplating projects of deeper importance and larger size. As a direct result of being given the leeway to find my own orientation, I have a line of work that will very likely result in articles of real interest, especially to teachers attempting to incorporate realistic environmental topics into physics classes of various levels.

I will be able to take back to our new environmental master's program insight into the current problems and directions of atmospheric science. I will be able to talk about atmospheric science research problems with my colleagues as well as with interested students and local teachers, at both the high-school and grammar-school levels. Actually, I have already made a start by giving two talks at NCAR to local children's groups. Recently I was awarded the College of Charleston Mebane Distinguished Teaching Chair in Chemistry and Physics. My project in that role will be to bring students and local teachers interested in atmospheric science out to visit NCAR.

While at NCAR Mills also, among other accomplishments, wrote two journal articles, reviewed and made extensive suggestions on a book in preparation, and made a good deal of initial progress in casting the general area called ‘integrated assessment' into a form that can be used in a classroom. For a complete copy of his report, contact Mills at the address given above.

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Last revised: Mon Apr 3 17:39:58 MDT 2000