Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Research with a side of adventure

Tropical biology takes students way out into the field

howler monkey

A howler monkey

The screams began before sunrise. And once they started, it was impossible to sleep. In the early morning darkness, the sounds suggested awful things: large beasts, such as dragons, trumpeting in anger. Or perhaps the sounds of war and death.

“The way I describe it is that it sounded like something being killed, or animals killing each other, like in a slow, painful way,” said Samantha Ferguson ’14. “It definitely sounded like death.”

The source of the sound: a troop of aptly named howler monkeys that had taken up residence in a stand of trees sheltering the river station dormitory at La Selva Biological Station. “The first time you hear that sound, every hair on your body stands up,” said Professor of Biology Scott Shumway, who has been visiting the tropics for more than 20 years.

“It’s not like your mother waking you up,” said Francine Camacho ’14. “It’s this screeching and then it hits you: ‘Wow, I’m really sleeping in the rainforest.’” [Read more...]

Native characters

The reef and rainforest ecosystems that students visit in the “Tropical Field Biology” course are incredibly diverse. Professor Scott Shumway offered field notes on a few of the species that students often focus on during the trip:

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A Belizean day in the life

The course is designed to make the most of every minute on the two-week field trip. Professor Scott Shumway offers a snapshot of the typical day in the field:

A typical day began with 7 a.m. breakfast, perhaps preceded by a moment of solitude walking the shoreline or out on the dock. After breakfast, we would gather in the classroom for instructions. Most mornings we boarded a boat for a 20-minute ride to one of the snorkel sites.

Afternoons were spent studying the patch reefs near the island. Between lunch and the afternoon snorkel, Professor Shawn McCafferty would lecture on coral identification or fish biology. After dinner the students would reassemble in the classroom for an overview of the day’s activities, a showing of the photos that Professor McCafferty took during the day, and planning the events of the next day. The final two days were devoted to the student patch reef projects. [Read more...]

A beautiful journey

Students live, learn, explore in Bhutan

Bhutan is breathtaking and unforgettable, says James Elliott ’15, pictured above

Flying into Paro, Bhutan, you go through a blanket of clouds that slowly dissolves as mountains emerge, cradling the emerald lushness of a valley dotted with colorful buildings. Even before your feet touch the ground, Bhutan takes your breath away. And, once you are there, it starts working on your heart and mind, say students who have participated in Wheaton’s study abroad program in Bhutan.

Bhutan dancing

Devotees seek blessings from the enormous silk appliqué thondrol depicting Guru Rinpoche in his many incarnations, displayed at the conclusion of the masked dance festival (tsechu) held at Nyimalung Monastery in Bumthang, central Bhutan.

“When we first flew over Paro, I was utterly speechless, and almost in tears. It’s undoubtedly the most beautiful place I have ever been,” says James Elliott ’15, one of six students who spent the fall 2012 semester in Bhutan.

Months after the experience, with his feet firmly planted in Norton, Mass., Elliott’s mind is still there. “Seeing the happiness and contentment of Bhutanese citizens, who have a very simple lifestyle in such stark contrast to how most Americans are brought up, really has expanded my worldview and solidified my convictions about how I live my life,” he says.

“One man started a conversation with me while I was waiting on the street, and it ended with him offering me a job, a place in his home and food for the duration of time that I would work for him. Each time someone gave us a ride that was clearly out of their way and refused any compensation, or helped us find a destination across town by personally escorting us there, I thought to myself I would feel so proud to be a part of this culture.”

The psychology major now plans to seek an additional independent major in contemplative studies, saying the Bhutan experience intensified his interest in psychology and sparked a desire for a more holistic approach to his studies. “I want my education to be more than a means to a monetary end. I want it to benefit as many people as possible.”

[Read more...]