Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Exploring fire ecology

Wofford students trek Southern Appalachians to gain understanding of fire's role in local ecosystems

FireEcol 382
2018-02-05

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — For Sarah Spiro, the "Fire Ecology in the Southern Appalachians" class that she took during Wofford's January Interim, held special significance.

"This class seemed particularly relevant in light of the fall 2016 forest fires in Western North Carolina," says Spiro, a senior biology and Spanish major. "I'm from Sylva, N.C., and although my parents never had to evacuate, they were issued a warning. I realized then how little I knew about fire ecology."

During the Interim, Spiro and others in the class taught by Dr. Cissy Fowler, professor of sociology and anthropology, and Dr. Peter Brewitt, assistant professor of environmental studies, learned the fundamentals of fire ecology, fire behavior, fire weather and fire effects. They explored topics in wildland and prescribed fire, and explored natural areas in the region to learn about the function that animals, plants and topography play in relation to fire.

While at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, N.C., the class hiked the Glassy Mountain Trail in search of evidence of Table Mountain Pine trees. "The main attraction is the globally rare granitic outcrops," says Fowler to the group at the base of the mountain. "They have a particular fire ecology and a particular suite of plants — including Table Mountain Pine — that are fire adapted."

At the top the students did indeed discover the Table Mountain Pines. They took photos, wrote in their journals, dug into their picnic lunches and shared conversation with their professors and classmates.

"I'm an ecology nerd," admits Spiro. "What I've been learning in this class is so cool."

Interim, Wofford College's January term, frees students and faculty to spend the month focused on a single topic designed to expand the walls of the traditional classroom, explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Interim at Wofford.