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What You'll Study
  • Survey and identify local plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals
  • Collect and measure ecological data using pitfall traps, mist nets, visual counts, sweep nets, and other techniques
  • Practice field monitoring techniques, including radio telemetry, camera traps, acoustic monitoring, and electrofishing
  • Organize, analyze, and synthesize ecological data collected during the course
  • Work all the way from a study idea to ready-for-implementation by completing your own research proposal
  • Learn orienteering basics such as navigating with a compass, using GPS, and finding map and field bearings

*Equivalent to BIOL 357 or EVPP 440.  Fulfills laboratory requirements.

Program Details

June 1 – June 13, 2020 (2 weeks) | Mason’s academic calendar

Available Formats

Undergraduate (CONS 440, 4 credits)
Graduate (CONS 540, 4 credits)


Tuition and SMSC Course Fees

Mandatory Room and Board – All students participating in this course will be required to stay onsite.  Room and board fees will be posted on student accounts.

Who is eligible?

3rd- and 4th-year undergraduates, graduate students, and non-degree-seeking students from any accredited college or university

Meet the Faculty

Stephanie Lessard-Pilon
Stephanie Lessard-Pilon
Assistant Professor of Conservation Studies
Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation
Stephanie Lessard-Pilon has worked in a wide range of ecological systems, from East Coast forests and streams to deep sea environments. She is particularly interested in the role of species interactions, including biologically-mediated disturbance and facilitation, on the structure and function of ecosystems. Stephanie is passionate about improving conservation education, engaging with diverse audiences about conservation-related issues, and empowering the public to take conservation action.


Close-up of hands holding a wood turtle
Bring your boots, pack some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, and come ready to work hard and spend long days in the field. No outdoor experience required!

This intensive course packs four credits worth of ecological field experience into a two-week period. We’ll begin with an overview of sampling methods and progress into hands-on and remote techniques commonly used in ecological research. You’ll become familiar with Virginia’s flora and fauna and learn to characterize ecological interactions related to population ecology, community ecology, and behavioral ecology.

You’ll conduct lab work on ecological data, maintain a field journal for your observations during the course, and develop a research proposal that addresses a question in conservation ecology.

Professor Jim McNeil shows students a click beetle captured with a light trap at night

Learning in the Field

Hands-on learning can happen any time of day (or night). Students took an evening walk to gauge diversity of night-flying insects. Assistant Professor Jim McNeil, an entomologist, demonstrated light-trap sampling techniques on a captured click beetle, which makes a clicking sound as a defense mechanism.

Take the next step toward a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Program Details