[WATCH] OU students visit Hawai’i for hands-on conservation biology course

Oglethorpe students recently spent a month exploring and studying natural ecosystems in Hawai’i. Part of a unique conservation biology course, this excursion allowed participants to hike, dive and boat around one of the world’s most biodiverse regions to better understand how to protect the world’s wildlife.

Offered every two years, BIO 280: Conservation Biology in Hawai’i is an experiential course that allows students to closely observe rare species in the field. Through the study of Hawai’i’s wildlife, students learn current practices for protecting these species and how to identify threats against them.

A favorite among Oglethorpe students, this course is as much educational as it is adventurous.

“One of my favorite Ogle experiences when I got to go!!” says alum Sam Katz ’20 who now works as an Epidemiology ORISE Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Threats to biodiversity — from explosive population growth to rapid urbanization — are often complex, requiring a multidisciplinary scientific training to understand. Through Oglethorpe University’s Environmental Studies minor, students learn to identify and address the causality behind environmental degradation and work to preserve our planet’s natural ecosystems.

Environmental studies students have plenty of opportunities to get out in the field, including field trips to the Okefenokee swamp or Sapelo Island on the Georgia Coast. And students have landed internships with well-regarded scientific organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Conservation Fund, Dunwoody Nature Center, Georgia Audubon, Nature Conservancy, Peachtree Creek Greenway, Sparta Gardens and more.

BIO 280 is taught by Professor of Biology Dr. Roarke Donnelly, who was interviewed on camera during this year’s trip.

“I’ve had several students in the Environmental Studies program — and in BIO — who have had wonderful internships and have become full-time authors right away before they graduate…” said Donnelly, “so, four years in, you come out with a degree and a job? That’s pretty amazing.”

The interview was conducted in front of a sign created by Oglethorpe alum Alex Prots ’20 who, after her own research trip to Hawai’i, discovered the mistreatment of the local spinner dolphins by tourists. After conducting several onsite surveys, Prots help design and implement a series of signs to help inform tourists about conservation laws in place to protect these animals. Her findings throughout this faculty-led undergraduate research project were later published in PLOS ONE.

“Through this class, I learned how wildlife was being treated and it sparked my interest,” said Prots about her own Hawai’i trip. She is currently an assistant instructor in microbiology at Oglethorpe.

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