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Gatton Academy students conduct biodiversity research in Costa Rica

Students at WKU’s Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky participated in a global learning experience in Costa Rican biodiversity studies during the university’s recent Winter Term.

Students from the Gatton Academy participated in a Winter Term course in Costa Rica. More photos from the trip are available on the WKU Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WKUNews

The two-week program was led by Dr. Keith Phillips, an associate professor in WKU’s Department of Biology. Sixteen Gatton Academy students, along with Academy Director Tim Gott, spent six days conducting research at Cloudbridge Nature Reserve in the cloud forest of southern Costa Rica’s mountains.

Other locations visited over the course of the program included Hacienda Barú on the Pacific jungle coast, a night in a jungle camp, Manuel Antonio National Park, Isla del Caño for snorkeling, the artisan town of Sarchí, and Arenal, one of the world’s most active volcanos.

Participation in the program went beyond coursework in a global classroom. Students obtained valuable experiences in critical thinking, research planning, data collection, and observation techniques through individual studies. Research projects focused on biomonitoring in a Costa Rican rainforest; a dung beetle study; elevation gradient of leaf litter invertebrates; hydrology; large mammal photo capture; comparing insect diversities in Heliconia bracts; the symbiosis of Gunnera and Nostoc; forest successions biodiversity; and the importance of rainforests.

Serving in the role of research mentor at Cloudbridge was Clarice Esch, a Gatton Academy alumna and junior in WKU’s Department of Agriculture from Somerset. Esch is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunities Fellow. She was part of the inaugural Academy program in Costa Rica in 2011 and returned with the group as part of her research on the effects of nitrogen fertilizers in agricultural systems.

The goal of her study was to seek improvement in methods of fertilization of crops, and that this possible discovery will advance better environmental management for agriculture programs.

Lori Lovell, a second-year student from Florence, noted that the experience at Cloudbridge was about more than just her academic pursuits.  “Time spent at Cloudbridge gave me the opportunity to learn not only about the environment, but about myself. I learned about self-motivation, goal-setting and even personal limitations. This experience was both physically and mentally challenging,” she said.

Experiences in the cloud forest taught Erin Walch, a second-year student from Alexandria, about the complexity of nature and the unique connections among species.

“The feeling of walking under a canopy that has grown for decades before I was born, and the knowledge that there will always be a part of the forest I have yet to see, is extremely fascinating,” Walch said. “I have come to respect these great, green mountains for the challenge their elevations have provided me, both physically and mentally, and am most sad to return to a world so tamed and flat—a world far less wild than I have become endeared to.”

Gatton Academy students participating in the 2012 Winter Term Course included: Jon-Kyle Bailey a first-year student from Campbellsville; Garrett Barnes, a first-year student from Frankfort; Will Bickett, a second-year student from Owensboro; Gabby Canant, a second-year student from Owensboro; Leah Cannady, a first-year student from Brandenburg; Paul Flesichmann, a second-year student from Crestwood; Eva Gray-Jennings, a first-year student from Bowling Green; Melanie Hurst, a second-year student from Bronston; Alison Jones, a first-year student from Henderson; Chiraag Kapadia, a first-year student from Madisonville; Lori Lovell; Holly Morris, a second-year student from Bowling Green; Wayne Schmitt, a first-year student from Jeffersonville; Nathaniel Serpico, a first-year student from Elizabethtown; Henry Uradu, a first-year student from Russell; and Erin Walch.

In addition to the program in Costa Rica, 16 Gatton Academy students visited locations throughout Italy during Winter Term. Later this summer, 32 Gatton Academy students will study literature at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England. Other students will study in Taiwan, Russia and China through WKU programs.

In all, three-out-of-four Gatton Academy students participate in a study abroad or global learning experience by the time they finish the two-year program.

More: Photos from the trip are available on the WKU Facebook page.

Contact: Corey Alderdice, (270) 745-2971.

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