Field Courses Take Students to Bahamas, Peru

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Applied Learning
Biology research in the Bahamas
Biology research in the Bahamas

Two groups of students recently returned from service-learning study-abroad trips where they spent time volunteering, conducting research and being immersed in other cultures.

Six students enrolled in Biology 296, a directed-research course called CCRABSS: Creating Collaboration in Research Among Bahamian and SUNY Oneonta Students, spent a month in the Bahamas learning about land crabs – a traditional food source that has been threatened by development, disaster and overharvesting.

The data they collected will help to determine land crab fishery stock abundance on North Andros Island as a means of enabling long-term, sustainable harvests of this economically and culturally important food source.

I can say that each student had significant personal growth during our adventure.
--Biology Lecturer Tami LaPilusa

The students surveyed 5,000 square meters of land crab habitat, counted and measured hundreds of land crab burrows, enjoyed 28 sunrises from Forfar Beach and learned how challenging field work can be – even in a tropical paradise. Students also volunteered with Forfar Field Station, The Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute and The Bahamas National Trust.

SUNY Oneonta biology Lecturer Tami LaPilusa, trip leader, said the students succeeded in accomplishing their research goals and “even had a little bit of fun" along the way. "I can say that each student had significant personal growth during our adventure," she said.

While in the Bahamas, the students wrote regular blog posts, letting friends and family at home know about their experiences. They spoke about seeing the effects of Hurricane Matthew, trying new foods such as plantains, snorkeling and seeing aquatic organisms, and being thankful for amenities they take for granted at home.

Kathryn Manizza, a junior majoring in biology, wrote that the experience made the students “realize how incredibly lucky we truly are to have things such as: cold water, insulation, air conditioning, shocks on our cars, paved roads, reasonable salaries, and most importantly a local healthcare system that will always be available when it is needed.”

Lauren Forchette, a junior from Staten Island, said the most important lesson she learned during the trip was that “you don't need to be in an industrially developed country like the United States to have everything you need to live a comfortable life.”

“After being on Andros Island for a month, I decided that when I came home I would clear my life of all the useless ‘stuff’ that I don't really need,” Forchette recalled. “This was one of the most valuable experiences of my life, and I plan to venture back to the family islands of the Bahamas soon.”

Food, Nutrition and Health in Peru

Group at Machu Picchu
From left: Sandra Del Corral, operations director for Academia Latinoamericana de Español (partnering agency); Professor Jennife

Meanwhile, 13 students enrolled in HUEC 394-01: Special Topics in Human Ecology-Food, Nutrition and Health in Peru, spent three weeks in Cusco working with children with specialized nutrition needs and feeding issues.

The students stayed with host families, took Spanish classes and visited archaeological ruins as well as bustling mountain markets. In between visiting cultural and historical sites, such as Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, the students learned about eating patterns in Peru and how these affect health and well-being there. A service-learning project at a high-needs Peruvian school allowed students to see the impact of the nutritional problems firsthand and get experience helping others.

“That first day when our students got to the school, the look on their faces was incredible,” said trip leader and SUNY Oneonta Human Ecology Department Chair and Professor Jennifer Bueche. “Some of them had never worked with children with disabilities, and it was overwhelming. But, within two weeks, these same students were crying saying goodbye to these children and teachers.”

Bueche led the trip along with SUNY Oneonta Food and Nutrition Lecturer Alexandra Nicolette. Students spent the first few days observing the children and learning about their diets and disabilities. They then taught the children and adults about “My Plate” and other principles of nutrition using Peruvian foods accessible to the school.

“It ended up being far more than we expected,” said Bueche. “Not only did we impact the children, we were asked to provide workshops for the teachers and parents. … It was such a transforming experience for the students. It made them focus because there were minimal resources, so they had to be adaptable. And it also made them realize how much they know.”