Edinboro University students are investigating the region’s biodiversity through hands-on field research during three-week summer courses at the Pymatuning Lab of Ecology (PLE) in Linesville, Pa.
“It’s a really unique experience to spend all that time in the field instead of a lab or a lecture room,” said Andre Francis, a senior Biology and Pre-Med major at Edinboro University. “Being out in the field gives a sense of perspective and appreciation for the material.”
Francis and 19 other EU students joined a cohort that also included students from the University of Pittsburgh, Lehigh University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock University and Clarion University for intensive plant and animal study that included faculty lectures, seminars from professional scientists and field research projects.
“Interacting with so many different like-minded students from the consortium schools and seeing the real-world application of the ecology we were learning were the best moments from the PLE experience,” said Francis, a native of nearby Meadville, Pa., in Crawford County.
Dr. Nina Thumser, chairperson of the EU Biology and Health Services Department and a PLE instructor, said the summer experience gives students a chance to earn college credits as the warmer weather cooperates with outdoor activity.
“The benefit to students is that it gives them a full season of hands-on, practical ecology,” said Thumser, who taught Behavioral Ecology this summer. “A majority of time is spent out in the field for three weeks of very intensive study.”
Pittsburgh native Marinela Banovic, who expects to graduate in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, said the blend of lectures and group fieldwork appeals to students with different learning preferences.
“It was honestly one of my favorite classes I have taken in my undergraduate career,” said Banovic, who took the summer courses to satisfy ecology requirements. “My group of classmates was very friendly, and teamwork was a big component in this class. We all became quite close in the short amount of time we were there, because we were all in it together.”
Each summer, students work in groups to design and conduct field research experiments in a variety of ecology courses. A group in Thumser’s course examined the effects of particular sounds on the behavior of groundhogs by exposing the animals to music and recordings of sounds made by predators in their natural habitat. Students found that, although groundhogs perked up to each sound, they were more likely to make a quick escape when they heard their predator.
“This gives students a much better feel for what the research field is like,” Thumser said. “This is definitely key to deciding what areas interest them.”
Through an agreement between Edinboro University and the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Biological Sciences, which operates the PLE campus, EU students can participate in the summer program at the normal summer tuition fee plus a $155 course lab fee. According to Thumser, this consortium arrangement allows Edinboro students to learn from students with different backgrounds and perspectives.
“Interacting with researchers and faculty and talking to other students about their experience gives students the exposure to diversity among students and other schools,” she said.
Edinboro students are scheduled to participate in several PLE courses this summer. The offerings include Herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians; Field Botany; Wildlife Management; Ecology; and Entomology, the study of insects.
Visit www.edinboro.edu/biology to learn about Biology and Health Services at Edinboro University.
Photo caption: Nicole Chabot, of Cleveland, Ohio, left, and Brittany Self, of Butler, Pa., both senior Edinboro University biology students, designed a study of moss found in waterways at the Pymatuning Ecology Lab in Linesville, Pa.