First courses begin at DelVal’s new Gemmill Campus

Sep 13, 2011

The first courses to be held on DelVal’s new 398-acre Gemmill Campus in Jamison, Pa., began Sept. 13. Larry Hepner, a faculty member in DelVal’s Natural Resources and Biosystems Management department, is using the campus to teach classes about soil.

The new campus was dedicated April 13. It was donated as part of transformational $30 million gift from The Warwick Foundation.

The courses include Field Soil Morphology and 2004 Soils. Weather related issues prevented courses from starting at The Gemmill Campus earlier. The campus will be used Tuesdays and Thursdays on a regularly scheduled basis. A shuttle takes the students to and from the new campus.

In Field Soil Morphology, students will describe and map soils, using the Gemmill Campus as their mapping project.

In the 2004 Soils course, Hepner’s basic soils class, students will learn about the physical and chemical properties of soils and how these properties affect land use, food and fiber production. 

A diverse group of students take this course, including students in agriculture, horticulture, environmental science, biology, animal science, wildlife management and landscape design.

Students will use soil-testing kits to take samples and build a soil quality index of the campus. They will learn testing procedures, and then work with the kits in the field. 


Hepner’s students will learn how physical and chemical properties come together to form a specific soil quality index for a site and how various land uses affect soil quality. 

Students who show a particular interest in soil quality will be invited to work with the Regenerative Land Institute and be part of the Gemmill master plan development project, as well as other projects the institute is working on.

Students can receive credit for working with the Institute.   

Various events and field trips have used the campus, but Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Russell Redding said Hepner is the first to use it for a structured course on a scheduled basis.  

“I think it has a lot of potential,” Redding said of the campus. “Certainly the teaching opportunities there are endless. You have soils, crop science… just go down the list of courses and majors here. … For many here there’s a connection to the Gemmill Campus. … What Larry is piloting is making it work. … As a pioneer, he will help demonstrate that it is doable.”

Redding is hoping that other professors follow Hepner’s example and take advantage of the new campus.

“There were some (faculty members) who explored an interest in it,” said Redding “I fully expect that there will be some faculty who will go out there for field trips (this semester).”

Hepner chose to use the campus because he saw a teaching opportunity in the large amount of land and the variety of land covers.

“There are a variety of soils that are over there, a variety of different land covers (crops, forests, pasture areas),” said Hepner. “It is an ideal setting for us to be able to do field soil mapping.”

Hepner said the campus fit the needs of his courses well.

“We can be both inside and outside,” said Hepner. “There’s a very nice large classroom setting in the house. We can use that as our home base and have classes in there and then do testing outside.”

Department Chair of DelVal’s Biology Program Ronald Johnson is also tapping the Gemmill Campus’ potential as an educational tool. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Johnson took his limnology (scientific study of bodies of fresh water) lab students to The Gemmill Campus to collect water samples.

Johnson is excited to be able to expose his students to different bodies of water than they would usually get to see.

“It exposes them to something other than Lake Archer and Lake Galena where we’ve traditionally worked…,” said Johnson. “That was the exciting thing for limnology, the fact that we had ponds that were easy to get to that were different. They wouldn’t get to study farm ponds of that type without the Gemmill Campus being there. It just provides more opportunities.”

So far, he said, the class has been having a good time studying the campus.

“We had a great time on the ponds. We were able to get our boats out,” said Johnson. “We got into the upper pond and drove around to the smaller pond. We were able to get the students out in the boats doing some shoreline work, mapping work and identification work. They’ll be able to note changes and see trends occurring.”

The students started a survey of the ponds collecting water samples for nutrient analysis.

They are working with Johnson and Hepner to research the history of the land. After that research is complete, the students will begin conducting a survey of the fish populations in the Gemmill ponds.

This fall’s courses are just the beginning for the new campus. Included in the $30 million gift from The Warwick Foundation was a $10 million endowment to maintain the campus and support its academic programs.

Redding said there is still work to be done before there can be a wide variety of courses at the new campus.

“Clearly there are some accommodations needed at the Gemmill farm for us to have a full complement of courses there,” said Redding.

In the mean time he said, “Generally, any course that finds a connection to the campus, I hope they use it.”

“It is a great teaching tool,” said Redding.