Students get an immersive experience while studying evolution

Students get an immersive experience while studying evolution

by Keerthana Krosuri ’14

A semester-long course on the natural history of the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador culminated in what one student called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience”: a two-week, faculty-led tour of the regions.

Bartolomé Island, part of the Galapagos Islands group.

The course, which was taught by biology Chair and Professor Don Lovett, had two parts. During the spring semester, students studied the flora and fauna endemic to the Galapagos Islands, learning how the region’s environment has been shaped and affected by humans. They also learned about the history, culture, politics, and economics of Ecuador from pre-colonial to modern time.

At the conclusion of the semester Lovett, Associate Professor of Biology Marcia O’Connell, and Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Andrew Clifford led the students on an immersive learning experience through the two regions.

While abroad, students saw up close the plants and animals they had studied during the semester, and their in-class lessons were supplemented with instruction from naturalists at Galapagos Natural Park and the Charles Darwin Research Station. The students were required to keep detailed field journals using the Grinnell System, recording their observations on both the environment and the animals they encountered.

“What made the trip so special was that the animals were so approachable,” said Claire Symanski ’13. “Most of them are not afraid of people at all, so you can walk right up to them and take a picture or just watch them.”

The students also explored Quito, Ecuador, where visits to churches, museums, markets, a university—even a soccer game—brought the country’s culture to life. Having learned basic Spanish phrases during the on-campus part of the course, students were expected to interact as much as possible with locals in their native tongue, Lovett said.

Michael Tom ’12 said he was awestruck by what he encountered in Quito, particularly the monastery he visited while there. “It was so peaceful,” he said.

When asked what he had hoped to communicate to students through the class, Lovett said he wanted to “share my love for evolution and natural history…and help [students] discover the amazing details of the natural history of the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.” Beyond that, Lovett said, he hoped students would come away with a “love of learning about other cultures, and the importance of learning to conform to the norms and standards of another culture.”

All photos below are (c) Don Lovett.

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