Fourteen HWS students on the Queensland study abroad program this semester are exploring the region through a biological lens as they study the plants and wildlife unique to Eastern Australia. Led by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Kristen Brubaker and Professor of Biology Elizabeth Newell, the program includes a combination of coursework and field research that provides students the invaluable opportunity to supplement lecture material with firsthand experiences.
“Australia is an amazing site for learning about biology because there are so many endemic species here,” says Brubaker. “The field trips are important because students are able to learn about topics in class, and then go out in the field and see those same things up close and in person.”
The program, based at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, integrates field and lecture components and focuses on the marine and terrestrial ecology of eastern Australia. The schedule includes a rigorous lineup of multi-day excursions to conduct field work in which students observe and study the biology of plants and animals in dry forests, rainforests, mangroves, islands and coral reefs.
The group has hiked through the rainforest in Lamington National Park and explored the wildlife at Giraween National Park, where they slept under the stars and learned about constellations from a local lecturer.
Currently, the group is exploring Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, where they are snorkeling and designing their own research projects to better understand the organisms of the reef and shoreline.
“Before going out to each of these ecosystems, the students are introduced to them in lectures,” explains Newell. “Once we’re in the field, the students conduct studies that develop new skills as they see for themselves the patterns and processes that had been described in the lecture.”
The fieldwork and excursions are supplementing four required courses, which give students insight into the biological life and the culture of Australia through courses like, “Marine Biology and Ecology” and “Australian Culture,” in addition to a conservation course co-taught by Brubaker and Newell.
Rachael Best ’18, a biology and environmental studies double major, says that learning about plants and animals “close up” has allowed her to more fully grasp the concepts.
“It’s one thing to learn about fire regimes in different forest types, but it’s another to physically walk through the different types of forests and see the impact that fire has had on the area,” she says.
Housed with local families in Brisbane, students are also experiencing Australian culture. Davis Ryan ’19 says, “Living with a host family has given me a deeper look into the lives of Australians and has allowed me to form more relationships with Australians through my host family.”
Students are also learning a lot about themselves in the process. “This trip has made me feel personally empowered and excited about learning and the world around me,” Best says. “The Queensland program is truly amazing, and because of it, I have fallen even more in love with marine ecology.”