Hawaii Is a Living Classroom for Oglethorpe Students

Dr. Roarke Donnelly (center) with eight adventurous Oglethorpe students.

Hawaii is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna in the world, and a trip there can be as exciting as it is eye-opening.

“It has everything,” said Dona Kioseff ’14. “Waterfalls, rainforests, coral reefs… but the native species in Hawaii are going fast, and it’s a fight to keep them alive. “

Over winter break, Dona was one of eight students to venture to Hawaii as part of the class “Conservation Biology in Hawaii.” Led by Dr. Roarke Donnelly and Heather Staniszewski ’02, assistant director of the Center for Civic Engagement, the students learned about the island’s culture and rare wildlife, and questioned what could be done to protect its endangered species.

“The point is to give biology majors a chance to study biology in the field,” Dr. Donnelly explained. “I’m a conservation biologist, and a lot of my friends work there… I drum up research with them, (and) published an article with Chris Lepczyk, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in order to teach junior scientists how to do peer reviews.”

Students participated in everything from hiking to snorkeling, and were given the chance to see endangered animals, including the monk seal and several species of birds. Dona, who celebrated her 21st birthday on the island, fondly recalled the day that she swam with dolphins.  Heather shared a notebook that she had filled with facts about ecotours and Hawaiian wildlife.

“We went for 13 days, which originally seemed overwhelming,” said Heather.  “But it felt shorter and shorter the longer we were there… the island is so different from anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Thanks to Dr. Donnelly’s efforts, along with the assistance of Dr. Jeffrey Collins, the tour managed to be informative and entertaining while maintaining its eco-friendliness.

“When I go to Hawaii, I try to be as low impact as I can,” said Dr. Donnelly. “We go to places that do not provide luxury accommodations, very old facilities that require minimal maintenance.”

Biology majors were given preference for the trip, but Dr. Donnelly often takes biopsychology students, and even included a physics student this semester.

“Any biology major that has the chance to go should definitely go,” said Dona. “On our way back (to Georgia), we were already talking about our reunion trip back to Hawaii… it was definitely beautiful and a trip of a lifetime for sure, but at the same time, it’s sad… (Hawaii) needs us.”

If you would like to learn more about this trip, and possibly go in the future, contact Dr. Donnelly for more information.  View more photos from the trip here!

“Outdoor Classroom” Benefits Students …and Bluebirds

Oglethorpe students Andrew Davenport ’12 and Sandy Vuong ’12 let me tag along to watch their springtime, end-of-semester urban ecology project take off… literally.

The two students were assigned special projects for their Urban Ecology class, taught by Dr. Roarke Donnelly, associate professor of biology and director of the Urban Ecology Program. Andrew and Sandy, both biology majors, decided to team up and investigate the behavior of Eastern bluebirds.

OU senior Andrew Davenport “flushing” the bird box

“Bluebirds prefer to find pre-existing cavities and build their nests in them,” said Andrew. “They pick already available accommodations and make them their own. Our research aims at explaining why they choose certain locations to nest and not others.”

The project quickly expanded to become a campus-wide effort. Oglethorpe’s Sigma Zeta National Science and Mathematics Society stepped in to help create the habitats, in hopes that the birds would choose them. Chassidy Teal, Sigma Zeta president, and the other Sigma Zeta members built the birds’ boxes as a service project. Dr. John Cramer, professor of physics, assisted them and then installed the bluebird boxes around campus.

There are now 10 boxes all over the Oglethorpe campus. Some are home to adult birds only, some have eggs in them and some little hatchlings. Andrew and Sandy take turns checking the boxes and recording data several times every week.

“Eastern bluebirds don’t have as many cavities available for nesting as they did before extensive logging and land development,” said Dr. Donnelly. “Boxes serve as suitable substitutes.”

Thanks to the joint effort of the honor society and Dr. Cramer, the two OU seniors are able to use their classroom knowledge and apply it to this hands-on project. But, the experiment has benefited the bluebirds as well as the students studying them.

“We did not have many bluebirds on campus,” said Dr. Cramer. “The experiment has attracted them to our outdoor classroom.”

View more photos of our bluebird families!

The male bluebird passes a worm to the female. She will then feed it to the little baby bluebirds.