April 20, 2018
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
A group of Mount Saint Mary College students recently enjoyed hands-on lessons in science and conservation nearly 9,000 miles away from home.
Associate Biology professor Douglas Robinson and Mathematics professor Mike Daven immersed the students in experiential learning during 24 days in New Zealand. The course, which earned students three science credits each upon completion, focused on conservation biology.
RIGHT: Sam Kenney of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a Nursing major, examines a sea star.
According to Robinson, while New Zealand exhibits some of humanity’s most negative environmental impacts, it is also a good example of the government and citizens banding together to preserve and recreate natural habitats.
“What I hope our students take from the trip is that it’s never too late to think about conservation efforts when species are declining,” Robinson said. “New Zealand is a posterchild for what can go wrong when humans arrive in a new place. In less than 1,000 years…nearly half of all the bird species there have gone extinct as a result of introductions of nonnative animals.”
But, he added, “The New Zealand government, private corporations, and individuals citizens have made it a priority to ensure that the native plants and animals will survive. There’s a real strong effort and focus on conservation.”
The group took part in service learning projects centered on plants and animals. For example, in Zealandia, a protected natural area in Wellington, Mount students cleared blackberry bushes from about a half-acre of land. The plants, said Robinson, are not native to New Zealand: They were brought over by settlers as a form of natural fencing, but things quickly got out-of-hand.
Paula Sheridan of Okarito Boat EcoTours (center) discusses the plants being raised at Okarito Native Plant Nursery. Nursing students Emily Stanek of Hopewell Junction, N.Y. and Harley Illingworth of Northfield, N.J., and Sociology student Sara Wernick of Highland Mills, N.Y. take notes.
The Mount group cared for the same plot of land that Robinson had worked on two years earlier with another set of Mount students. The land they had cleared earlier had become home to the takahé, an endangered, flightless species of bird.
“There are only 350 [takahés] alive in the world,” Robinson revealed. “We got to see a pair of them. And the students got to see firsthand that we’re making a difference.”
LEFT: Jenna Albanese of Hawthorne, N.J., a Nursing student, examines the carcass of an albatross on the beach at Sandfly Bay.
In a first for the biannual journey, the majority of the students – eight of the nine – are Nursing majors. While the course was primarily science-based, Robinson and Davin tailored parts of the experience to the group of future healthcare specialists. When speaking with nurses in the country, the students quickly discovered that healthcare in New Zealand is much different than here in the United States.
People are less concentrated in New Zealand than in New York, Robinson explained, and the Nursing students learned that specialized care in the country is far different that in America.
“Let’s say you need a cardiac specialist,” said Robinson. “They might be located 500 miles away, so the patient would need to be taken there in a helicopter. That was eye-opening for the students to hear about.”
Even during downtime, the Mount group experienced many teachable moments, Robinson explained. For example, while camping, Robinson discussed the insects around them, such as glowworms.
“It’s a highly immersive experience all around,” Robinson said. “Everywhere, the students are learning about basic biology and how to read the environment around them.”
Robinson will be taking a six-month sabbatical to New Zealand next year. He plans to work on animal research and make new connections “to make our study abroad trip that much more incredible for our students.”