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!