Brazil 1By Carlee Berkenkemper

Elm Staff Writer

It’s one thing to study ecology, but another thing entirely to live and conduct research in a tropical environment.

“I don’t think I could pinpoint one event or moment that really speaks to all the magic that exists in the Atlantic Rainforest,” said junior Lexi Hegeman, who participated in a two-week trip to Brazil over break.

Organized and taught by Dr. Jennie Carr, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Robin Van Meter, assistant professor of environmental science/studies and biology, “Tropical Ecology” is a four-credit course that involves travel to a tropical region over winter break.

In the past, students have traveled to Nicaragua, but this winter, for the first time, students journeyed to the Iracambi Research Center in Brazil.

Ranging from bats or birds to fungi or spiders, students chose to conduct research on a topic of their choice under the guidance of the professors.

Dr. Carr spoke on how enthusiastically students embraced the opportunity.

“I think that my favorite moment of the trip was seeing how excited students were about all of the really fascinating things that we got to see. I am excited about all kinds of organisms — especially when considering all of the cool things that live in the tropics — that it was really wonderful to see this sort of infectious excitement amongst the students as well,” she said.

From visiting popular tourist attractions and conducting their own research to playing soccer in the rain and learning some of Brazil’s cultural traditions, the trip was full of incredible opportunities and unforgettable experiences.

“It was a tremendously positive experience filled with beautiful and bizarre plants, amazing animals, and inspiring people,” said Shane Brill, WC’s videographer, permaculturist, and global ambassador for the Eastern Shore Food Lab, who also attended the trip.

Brill appreciated both the interactions with fellow environmentalists concerned about the future of the region and the natural landscape of Brazil, especially the indigenous wildlife.

“I enjoyed meeting passionate practitioners of agroecological systems working to restore the balance between humans and the environment. Each day brought something delightful — getting caught in seasonal downpours, climbing to breathtaking vistas, and finding frogs, kittens, and possums in the most unexpected places,” Brill said.

Aside from working at the research center, the group visited small villages and met notable members of the community to learn more about current field research.

Senior Haley Zullo described her favorite part of the Brazil excursion, meeting local researcher Leandro Santana Moreira.

“He invited us into his home that he built by hand, told us all about his sustainable life, showed us his garden full of native plants, and shared his research on spider monkeys, which he’s been studying for years,” she said.

In addition to all of these educational opportunities, Hegeman found the sharing of cultural traditions at Iracambi to be her most memorable moment.

On the last night of the trip, the group gathered around a bonfire and learned traditional Brazilian dances from Iracambi natives. In exchange, the students taught dances they enjoy, such as Zumba.

“We also shared our favorite songs and artists with each other. It was the kind of moment that transcends any differences, including the language barrier,” Hegeman said.

The General Biology sequence (BIO-111 and BIO-112) is a prerequisite for the course, but all students — regardless of their major – are encouraged to apply.

Senior Kelsey McNaul reflected on the environmental threats to tropical regions like Brazil and the forests of South America.

“Seeing the vibrancy of Brazilian culture and the beauty and biodiversity of the Atlantic rainforest was an unforgettable experience. At the same time, it opened my eyes to the devastating impact of deforestation and encouraged me to continue to be an activist for our environment,” she said.

The twelve students reported on their six projects upon their return to campus on Jan. 25 in Litrenta Lecture Hall.

The Elm

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