Psychology Team Dives In to Study the Benefits of SCUBA

with-the-founders-of-Life-Waters

OU students and faculty with the founders of LifeWaters: Jody Paniagua, John Carton, Charley Wright, Katee Gmitro, and Harry Dodsworth.

Dr. John Carton, psychology professor and chair of the Behavioral Sciences division at Oglethorpe, recently led an a innovative research project to investigate the psychological benefits of SCUBA training for individuals with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments. He partnered with LifeWaters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping spinal cord injured patients and disabled veterans experience the benefits of SCUBA, and enlisted the help of students in his psychology lab at Oglethorpe.

In conjunction with Veterans Day, LifeWaters brought 12 veteran divers and 6 dive “buddies” specially certified to assist divers with spinal cord injuries and limited mobility to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to dive in the monstrous tank containing 16-foot whale sharks and hundreds of other species. Dr. Carton and two students from his psychology laboratory, Katee Gmitro ’16 and Harry Dodsworth ’16, observed the dive and spent the entire day immersed in the process of SCUBA therapy.

While on site, Dr. Carton, Katee and Harry were able to meet and interview all the divers, their dive support staff (buddies) and families. They also toured behind the scenes of the entire aquarium and met the director of the aquatic therapy program and the founding directors of LifeWaters. They observed the divers entering and exiting the large tank where they were diving—which included the whale sharks and 12-foot span manta rays.  And, they had the chance to watch the whale sharks’ feeding during a private viewing.

A paralyzed diver with his "buddy" and a diver from the Georgia Aquarium.

A paralyzed diver with his “buddy” and a diver from the Georgia Aquarium.

Prior research has shown that SCUBA training can positively affect the mental well-being of participants and even help reduce psychological symptoms. Working with the students in his psychology laboratory, Dr. Carton designed a longitudinal study that involves measuring participants’ mental health prior to entering SCUBA training with LifeWaters and comparing it to their mental health after their certification, after their first dive, and a year later. A “wait list” control group will provide data for comparison.

“Many veterans with paralyzing injuries suffer from a variety of anxiety and mood disorders, for which there is continued need to identify therapies that produce lasting positive effects,” says Dr. Carton. “Anecdotal observations support the hypothesis that SCUBA may go well beyond teaching dive-related skills, to also positively affect the mental well-being of participants and even help reduce psychological symptoms.”

A small scale study that was sponsored by the Cody Unser First Step Foundation several years ago provided some preliminary data to support the hypothesis. Unfortunately, that study was not formally published, replicated, or expanded upon. That is where Dr. Carton’s laboratory stepped in. He brought in his students from his laboratory to help them “better understand the research and to mentor them in the development of additional hypotheses for this research project.”

While at the aquarium, the students collected qualitative data for future hypothesis development and witnessed firsthand the therapeutic outcomes of the program, both for physical and mental health issues. Both students were invited to collect additional data on future dive visits to this facility and other locations.

Conservation biology class gets hands-on at Sapelo Island

Conservation Biology class trip to Sapelo Island & Okefenokee Swamp
Curated by Debbie Aiken '12 Debbie Aiken '12

Every two years, Oglethorpe biology professor Dr. Roarke Donnelly takes his Conservation Biology class on a 4-day trip to Sapelo Island and the Okefenokee Swamp. The trip provides real-world context for many lessons in his course—not to mention a few bumpy rides in the back of this truck. 

Just after arriving on Sapelo Island, students set up a motion and heat-sensitive camera in a secluded area in hopes of catching a glimpse of the island’s resident bobcats. The camera was retrieved at the end of the trip with shots of deer, raccoons and opossums, but no cats.

The team set up a series of five nets in order to trap, identify, band, and release birds. Here, students use a bird guide to identify the species of the bird Dr. Donnelly untangles. 

Biology major Yidi Amha prepares to release a Carolina Chickadee. 

Students observe Brown Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorands nesting on a shipwreck in the ocean. They had the opportunity to see some of the rare or endangered bird species they’d learned about in class.

Learning happened everywhere—even on the beach! Dr. Donnelly led students on a hike from the beach inland to learn about sand dune formation and how the vegetation in these areas changes over time. 

With very few vehicles on Sapelo Island, the biology team spent a lot of time walking from the dorms at UGA’s Marine Institute to various parts of the island. 

Students were eager to explore an old lighthouse to look for owl pellets, which can be dissected to learn about the birds’ diet. 

This is an OU classroom! Dr. Donnelly explained the history of Sapelo Island, while students sat “poolside” at a mansion built by R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco mogul eventually sold the estate and other island property to the state of Georgia. 

The group stopped at the Okefenokee Swamp on the way back to Atlanta to learn about the natural cycle of wildfires—one in particular burned for more than 13 months in 2011, changing the landscape for years to come.

What better place to learn about the geographic features that allow for the formation of swamps—than to stand in the middle of one?

The class took a guided boat tour through the swamp where they learned about plant species that thrive in this environment, like Bladderwort and Neverwet.

The swamp tour gave students the chance to see adult and baby alligators, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets and Red-Shouldered Hawks.

Dean Easton, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained his team’s efforts to monitor, protect and preserve the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. 

The students who travel with Dr. Donnelly on this biennial trip always stop to pose for a photo amid the branches of this spectacular Live Oak, and would likely agree there’s no substitute for out-in-the-field learning. “You can talk about it all you want,” says Dr. Donnelly, “but to actually see and touch is a completely different experience.”

 

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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Awards Grant to Support Oglethorpe’s Core Curriculum

IMG_4685The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has selected Oglethorpe University to receive a sizable three-year grant to support “Explorations in the Core,” an initiative to evaluate and implement innovations in the Oglethorpe Core curriculum.  The grant is awarded through the foundation’s Liberal Arts Colleges Program.

Oglethorpe’s award-winning, groundbreaking core curriculum has been a unifying academic experience for all students since its inception seventy years ago. The Oglethorpe Core is a sequential four-year general education program deeply rooted in the liberal arts tradition, and has been recognized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and funded twice by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The “Explorations in the Core” program will enable Oglethorpe faculty to pilot variations of standard courses by testing new methods, texts, and pedagogies. The grant from the Mellon Foundation will directly support resources for planning, creating, and implementing the new courses.

“The Mellon Foundation grant will allow Oglethorpe to preserve our Core’s fundamentals, while incorporating new ideas, approaches, and perspectives,” said Dr. Charles Baube, professor of biology and director of the Oglethorpe Core. “Our goal is to ensure that this rigorous, interdisciplinary course of study in the arts and sciences remains relevant and continues to be a model for liberal arts instruction in the 21st century.”

“This initiative is critical to the ongoing development of the Oglethorpe Core, and builds on seven decades of delivering an interdisciplinary education program that is at the heart of our university,” said Oglethorpe President Lawrence M. Schall. “While the Core has evolved significantly over time, its goals have largely remained the same:  to educate our students to make not only a good living, but an enriching life and a significant difference in their communities.”

 

Petrel Intern Makes a Difference at the Latin American Association

479924_10151166982738446_1862507659_n (1)The Latin American Association was established in 1972 with the mission to help Latino families achieve their aspirations for their academic, social and economic advancement. This is accomplished through direct programs and integrated community partnerships that focus on youth academic achievement, education and prevention and services to families with urgent needs. Vicky Herbener ’14 is helping the association to fulfill those goals.

Vicky, an international studies major, wanted to intern with the Latin American Association because of her interest in helping immigrants to make a better life. There, she teaches English, Spanish and computer classes, plus she assists the program director with creating lesson plans. Her other duties include helping with marketing and fundraising. Vicky’s favorite part of her internship is seeing the results — the satisfaction of the people who once needed help.

10317663_10152500591464169_2758810045530574488_oAn LAA internship requires skills in writing, translating and the ability to interact effectively with different types of people. Vicky felt she was prepared thanks to her Oglethorpe education. “It’s important to translate a phrase into Spanish with the same meaning, she said, ” and because I translated so much at Oglethorpe, I felt prepared.”

Vicky advises students who are applying for internships to not to be afraid to apply for the ones you want, even those that may seem out of reach. “Don’t worry about if you have enough experience for it or not,” Vicky says. “Apply anyway, because you never know unless you try.”

“In Love with the World”: Study Abroad in France

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Shea Pitre ’15 at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland

Before I began my study abroad at L’Université Catholique de Lille, I had never been out of the country and had rarely ventured out of the southern U.S. I’m an International Studies and French double major, so studying in France was a necessity, but the decision to do it for a year was both insanely easy and incredibly frightening. I was worried about all the usual things students worry about before they begin their study abroad. Would I like it? How was I going to handle being so far away from home for so long? Did I know enough French to actually live in France?

Not long after my arrival in France, all of my worries were put to rest. The first few months were not without their fair share of struggles and homesickness, but I quickly fell in love with my surroundings. Being constantly surrounded by the French language and culture was, and still is, absolutely thrilling. I am constantly learning new things in and out of the classroom, not only about the world around me but also about myself.

London

London!

In the classroom, I have been able to attain a higher level of French. I have also been able to gain a different perspective on international relations and what is going on in the world. Most of my classes this year have focused on international political ties and foreign policy from a French and broader European view, and it has truly enriched what I already knew and loved about my International Studies major.

My time abroad so far has been a truly transformative experience. Thanks to Europe’s connectedness, I’ve now been to 24 cities in 13 different countries, and I have learned so much in each place from experiencing it, rather than reading it out of a textbook. Besides finally realizing my childhood dream of going to Paris (which was amazing), one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had during my exchange was visiting the Palace of Nations and the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It was so wonderful to learn its history and be in a place where so many important decisions have been made on the international front.

Lille

Lille, France

Thanks to all of these amazing experiences that I have had and the fact that I have been submersed in a completely different culture for seven months, I am more confident and inspired, and I have fallen in love with the world. However, as amazing as this experience has been, I am ready to return home to see where everything I have learned leads me in life and in the rest of my time at Oglethorpe. I urge every Oglethorpe student to talk to Dr. Collins and take advantage of one of the many amazing study abroad opportunities our school has to offer. You won’t regret it.