Monthly Archives: November 2015

Hunting for Plastics – Making Connections Through Lower Division Courses

Division of Science and Math Work Group: Julie Masura and Megan Schwartz (co-chairs) Bonnie Becker, Erica Cline, Jeremy Davis, Jutta Heller, Meg Henderson, Erik McDonald, Peter Selkin, Haley Skipper, and Cynthia Stanich

UW Tacoma students collecting and categorizing microplastics, macroplastics and megaplastics at Thea's Beach and Owen's Beach

UW Tacoma students collecting and categorizing microplastics, macroplastics and megaplastics at Thea’s Beach and Owen’s Beach


In 2014, twelve faculty from the Division of Science and Math joined together to develop high standards for lower division students taking Natural World courses as a part of the CORE curriculum. Action among this faculty stems from the reconciliation of the vision for the CORE experience from the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and the Office of Undergraduate Education. Four faculty attended a conference on lower division biological education which they shared with the Science and Math faculty (see The result of that conference led to reformatting our Lower Division undergraduate courses through implementation of high impact educational practices as identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (see

The workgroup created a curriculum for our freshmen class to be followed by faculty teaching in the CORE, and committed to not only providing faculty development, but also perform an assessment measuring science attitudes and skills of students taking these classes. Each student taking a Natural World course will be exposed to data collection, field and laboratory experiences, field and laboratory reports, academic research, data analysis, and place-based activities. Our intention is a pledge to ensuring every student experience the “science” in interdisciplinary arts and sciences.

During the summer of 2015, Erik McDonald restructured his Natural World course using the framework developed by Julie Masura’s CORE course ‘Oceans Full of Trash.’ One of the activities/experiences for his students was to collect and categorize microplastics, macroplastics, and megaplastics at Thea’s Beach on the Thea Foss Waterway and Owen’s Beach at Point Defiance Park (see figure). For another part of the lesson, the students graphed their data (including uncertainty) in Excel and wrote a report on their experience. They will continue to explore the impacts of plastics pollution on ecosystems, while understanding their social responsibility of educating others and modifying behaviors to lessen the effect on their environment.

-Article written by Erik McDonald and Julie Masura

Associate Professor Jim Gawel Quoted by the News Tribune on Tacoma’s Asarco Smelter

Asarco Smokestack in Ruston shown in September 1935.  Photo courtesy of the News Tribune.

Asarco Smokestack in Ruston shown in September 1935. Photo courtesy of the News Tribune.

Dr. Jim Gawel was quoted by the News Tribune on November 7, 2015.  The article is titled “Three decades after the Asarco smelter shutdown, its toxic legacy surprises Tacoma newcomers” and was written by Derrick Nunnally.

The article mentions a paper by Dr. Gawel from 2013 and states

“An analysis published in an academic journal in 2013, however, found that the same pollutants have hung around the area’s freshwater basins in worrisome amounts. Sediment samples from 26 lakes within 20 miles of the smelter’s smokestack found “significantly elevated” amounts of arsenic and lead in 10 of the 12 lakes downwind of the smelter, but only in a few of the upwind lakes.”

To read this News Tribune article in full, please click HERE.


Faculty Spotlight – Dan Shugar


Dan Shugar is a new assistant professor to UW Tacoma Sciences and Mathematics (SAM).

Dan Shugar is a geoscientist, who studies Earth surface landforms and the processes that shape them (“geomorphology”). Most recently he worked as a postdoctoral research fellow (2011-2015) at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. His research combines fieldwork, geomatics (GIS and remote sensing), laboratory analysis, and numerical modelling, and has included studies of landslides and glaciers in Alaska; permafrost, landslides and lake evolution in Yukon; sea-level change, landslides and glacier change in British Columbia; river erosion in Ontario; river turbulence in Argentina and landslides in Nepal. The incredible geography of the Pacific Northwest, and the teaching and research opportunities that will bring is the main reason Dan is excited about joining SIAS and UWT.

Dan is the proud father of 3-year-old Ansel and 3-month-old Juniper, and has been happily married to his wife Jen for 10 years. Dan is an avid backcountry skier, rock climber, backpacker, and photographer. He and Jen are excited to have their girls grow up in the Pacific Northwest, with the Cascades and Olympic Mountains in their backyard.