Lauren Ashley '15
Randolph-Macon College Professors Michael Fenster (geology) and Steven Lang (economics)
are teaching their students to think outside the classroom.
Fenster and Lang teach the First-Year Experience
(FYE) course Beaches or Bedrooms: The Economic and Environmental Consequences of
Coastal Development. The FYE program is an immersion in creative, critical thinking
and cross-disciplinary learning. The Beaches or Bedrooms course combines the primary
disciplines of economics and environmental (coastal) geology to address the question,
“What is the value of a beach in its natural state?”
In order to answer that question, students recently traveled to the Eastern Shore,
where they traveled by boat to see firsthand the dynamic nature of natural, pristine
and unspoiled barrier islands. Students also had the opportunity to measure coastal
dynamics by surveying the beach, taking samples from the lagoon and beaches, and
using state-of-the-art oceanographic instruments.
Eastern Shore to view photos from the trip.
“We are examining the economic and environmental consequences of choices that people
make in highly dynamic coastal zones,” explains Fenster. “We are also investigating
the economics of coastal development by examining economic models of the trade-offs
associated with choices, the conceptual basis for cost-benefit analysis, and the
methods used for measuring these values.”
From a geologic perspective, students are investigating and analyzing the processes
that operate in natural coastal systems, the products that those processes produce,
and the impacts of humans on those natural systems. From an economic standpoint,
students are learning the conditions under which markets generate socially desirable
outcomes and the conditions under which they fail to do so. This analysis will help
students form their own views on socially optimal levels of coastal development.
Lang joined the faculty at Randolph-Macon College in 1987. He earned his B.A., M.A.
and Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.
Fenster joined the faculty at Randolph-Macon College in 1999. He earned his B.S.
and M.S. at the University of Mississippi and his Ph.D. at Boston University, and
he conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Virginia. He currently
serves as the director of the college’s
environmental studies program.