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From the College of Natural Sciences
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Cool Class: Lizard Island

Cool Class: Lizard Island
lizard-islandSure, communal living on a distant island might bring to mind a certain hit television show.

But the 15 students who stayed on Lizard Island this past summer were satisfied to find their intrigue in the incredible coral reefs they snorkeled through each day.

For three summers Dr. Mary Poteet, research fellow and lecturer in integrative biology, has led a group of 15 students to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to study coral reef ecosystems and conduct field-based research. After a week in Sydney, students spend three weeks at the Lizard Island Research Station. They cook, eat, study, research and play together, and Poteet admits there are many sad faces when it’s time to leave.

“At dinner, all of us sit around an open-air dining table as the sun sets and flying foxes start to forage,” she says. “It’s an energized environment that leads to some great conversations and debates.”

Days are spent outside, boating and snorkeling in one of the many reefs surrounding Lizard Island. Students interact with researchers from around the globe and they explore the natural history and biodiversity of the area while learning the field methods employed in ecological research.

The class draws students from across the university, with majors ranging from business to philosophy, engineering to geological sciences. Their experience with travel varies, too.

“Australia was definitely the farthest and most exotic place that I had ever been,” says Elise Rasmussen, who had just finished her first year as a student in the College of Natural Sciences when she took the class.

“The most interesting thing was the level of diversity in the ocean communities,” Rasmussen says. “I could float in the same place in the water, look around, and still never see every living organism within my vicinity.”

She also says that the trip taught her just how involved scientific research is, from the length of time it takes to conduct it to how variables are always interacting, making definite answers elusive. This kind of understanding is exactly what Poteet is aiming for.

She’s focused her teaching career on helping students understand research and science methods.

“My goal is to give students a hands-on appreciation for evidence-based inquiry in a stimulating and exciting environment,” she says.

Lizard Island offers her just that opportunity.

“It’s so gratifying to see the students look at the reef for the first time,” she says. “They get so excited when they see the incredible diversity and abundance of colorful fishes and coral. It’s almost overwhelming.”

Written by Vivé Griffith
Photo by Elise Rasmussen
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Comments 1

Guest - Brittany Jensen on Wednesday, 26 January 2011 07:24

This sounds AMAZING!! Can I get more information? Please!!

This sounds AMAZING!! Can I get more information? Please!! Thanks
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