Interdisciplinary Center for Environmental Studies (ICES)

A self-supported organization within the nonprofit Student Association Inc., ICES seeks to establish an environmental center at PennWest California to create inter-institutional partnerships that build, facilitate, coordinate and enhance existing and future environmental programs.

ICES is guided by an advisory board that represents diverse backgrounds and interests, with broad community representation inclusive of the University, in all its aspects, and the southwestern Pennsylvania region. 

ICES at SAI Farm

The master plan for SAI Farm set aside a parcel of about 10 acres known as the Environmental Studies Habitat. This parcel provides a diverse environment including a wooded area, wetlands, a stream and open fields. 

The 3,000-square-foot barn also has been designated as a potential multi-use educational and research facility.

ICES Projects

The center's incentives at SAI Farm include:

  • Pollination and Honeybee Hives
    Honeybees balance the ecosystem at SAI Farm and pollinate native plants and the garden overseen by the Horticulture Club. Students and community members learn the importance of pollinators, as well as beekeeping and hive management techniques. PennWest California students extend their learning in courses such as Entomology, Ecology, Plant Biology and more.
  • Phase I Wetland Project
    Wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality and reduce flooding. A wetland developed in partnership with PennWest California's Partners for Fish and Wildlife [Can LINK to this page] provides opportunities for applied learning, research and community education at SAI Farm. The wetland may be enlarged in future years, providing further opportunities for hands-on learning.
  • Nature Trail and Wetland Overview
    Access to natural areas is improved through this 2015 Eagle Scout project, a collaboration among ICES, SAI and a local Boy Scout troop. Scouts designed a boardwalk accessing an overlook near the wetland within the Environmental Studies Habitat, making it easier for university students, visiting high school students and community members to reach the area. In time, ICES intends to develop points of interest along the trail that will provide information about plant and animal life.
  • Fruit Tree Orchard
    Through a grant from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, an orchard of about 40 trees - a mix of apple, peach and pear - has been installed at SAI Farm. Students planted the trees and care for the orchard, which provides opportunities for applied horticulture and science education. When trees mature, nutritious fruit will be donated to area food pantries, including the PennWest California Cupboard on campus. 
  • Well Field
    The well field established as a joint investment by SAI, the PennWest California Geology Club, the Pittsburgh Geological Society and the Dominion Foundation includes multiple wells that reach 30 feet or more into the sedimentary bedrock, and shallower wells 13-18 feet deep.

    Wells are drilled during the annual Student Field Workshop, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Geological Society. At the workshop, geologists and drillers work side by side with students to demonstrate drilling techniques, take rock core samples, teach well construction and development, and demonstrate environmental sampling and testing. Students also learn about job site etiquette and health and safety regulations.

    Throughout the academic year, geology students take water depth measurements, collect water chemistry samples and conduct aquifer tests at the well field. Among other projects, data is used to construct a continuously updated groundwater model for the SAI Farm property.
  • Growing Grains
    Through a partnership between SAI and Goshen Valley Grains, several acres at SAI Farm are planted with seasonal crops, and various crops are maintained in the student-managed food garden.

    Goshen Valley, owned by alumnus Randy Metz '02, takes a biological approach to farming that focuses on soil nutrients to support long-term sustainability and productivity of the land. Through the partnership, students learn soil management, water conservation and anti-erosion practices; botany; sustainability; and small-business skills in conjunction with various PennWest California courses. Some crops will be donated to the Horticulture Club, and Goshen Valley will mill any grains grown by students.

Contact Us

To learn more about the Interdisciplinary Center for Environmental Studies, contact:

Dr. Robert Whyte, professor
Chair, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences

Dr. Sarah Meiss
Associate professor
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences