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Wilson College Ecology Class Returns from J-Term Trip to Belize

Posted: February 25, 2011

2/25/2011 A group of Wilson College students, alumnae and instructors recently returned from a trip to Belize, where they studied the ecology and biodiversity of typical Belizean ecosystems as part of a study-abroad class called Tropical Ecology of Belize.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: Feb. 25, 2011
CONTACT: Cathy Mentzer, Manager of Media Relations
Phone: 717-264-4141, Ext. 3178
Email: cathy.mentzer@wilson.edu

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – A group of Wilson College students, alumnae and instructors recently returned from a trip to Belize, where they studied the ecology and biodiversity of typical Belizean ecosystems as part of a study-abroad class called Tropical Ecology of Belize.

The course, held over the college’s January Term, involved a week of classroom time on campus followed by 14 days of field experiences in Belize, the northernmost country in Central America. The class returned on Jan. 23.

“The purpose of the course really was to learn about the major ecosystems of Belize,” said Dr. Laura Altfeld, Wilson assistant professor of biology. “We focused on the rainforest, the coral reef, mangrove forests and sea grass beds.”

In addition to learning about the biodiversity of the country, the class spent time learning about the various cultures of Belize, including the Mayan, Garifuna and Kriol subcultures, according to Altfeld.

“We wanted to focus on how culture affects conservation of the ecosystems – how culture affects people’s values with respect to ecology, conservation and land use, and what their perspectives are, as opposed to the government’s” Altfeld said.

For students, the trip was a rare chance to immerse themselves in the cultures and plant and animal life of another country.

“It was a great opportunity to travel, to go to a country I probably wouldn’t ever get a chance to go to otherwise,” said Wilson junior Kelly Flavin, a Carlisle resident majoring in veterinary medical technology.

Flavin, who hopes to eventually work with exotic animals, especially appreciated the group’s visit to the Belize Zoo, which is a major educational center in that country. She said zoos in Belize house only indigenous animals and place them in the kind of surroundings they would inhabit naturally.

“I would definitely recommend it,” Flavin said of the study-abroad experience. “I learned so much more in those two weeks than I think I would have learned in a classroom.”

Nine students and three alumnae, including Fulton Center for Sustainable Living Program Manager Chris Mayer, accompanied Altfeld, who was assisted by Dr. Brad Engle, biology professor and chair of Wilson’s Department of Physical and Life Sciences.

The class spent the first few days in Belize City before spending an entire week on an island called Billy Hawk Cay, where they snorkeled and kayaked along the second-largest barrier reef in the world and numerous smaller reefs, as well as visiting the Smithsonian Marine Research Station. The group then spent three days paddling inflatable kayaks through the rainforest, camping at basecamps along the way.

“We collected data on biodiversity,” Altfeld said. “Every student had a project that they were working on, such as the birds or trees or orchids.”

The students produced scientific reports on their subjects and will present their data to the Wilson College community in various ways, including through Power Point presentations.

In addition to Flavin, the following students traveled to Belize: Megan Dennis of Cooperstown, N.Y.; Chelsi Hornbaker of Mercersburg; Meghan Reed of Hagerstown, Md., Ciera Rhodes of Carlisle; Alyssa Sabot of Lower Burell; Victoria Wilcox of Mount Laurel, N.J.; Brandi Williams of Greencastle and Christine Van Sicklin of Pound Ridge, N.Y.

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Wilson, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 fields, teacher certification for college graduates and a master’s degree in education. This year, Wilson enrolled nearly 800 students from 21 states and 13 foreign countries.

Wilson is an independent college with a proud history of educating women since 1869 through rigorous study of the liberal arts and sciences. Today, Wilson’s mission also includes women and men enrolled in adult degree and graduate programs. Guided by its Honor Principle and distinguished by a commitment to transformative student growth, Wilson College prepares all of its graduates for fulfilling lives and professions, ethical leadership and humane stewardship of our communities and our world.

Last Updated: June 30, 2011