Journey to the Gulf Coast Educated and Inspired UM Environmental Studies Students – Advice Eating

In April, nearly 30 University of Montevallo students traveled to the Alabama coast for a two-day trip focused on coastal ecosystems and sustainability through hands-on learning.

The students were divided into two groups of 14. One group was part of the environmental studies program with Dr. Susan Caplow, an associate professor of environmental studies. And the others were students in the invertebrate zoology class of Associate Professor of Biology, Dr. Jill Wicknick.

“DR. Jill Wicknick usually takes her students for a day trip to Dauphin Island in the spring,” Caplow said. “She and I talked about making it longer with more stops and educational opportunities, and this year we were able to do that. We secured a bus and stayed the night so it was a two day trip instead of one.”

On the first day after beginning their journey at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Wicknick’s group went to the wetlands and Caplow’s students learned about microplastics on the beach.

Trinity Buse, a sophomore in environmental studies from Steele, Alabama, said the trip was a great opportunity and an enriching experience.

“We learned a lot about the importance of microplastics and how to remove them from shore, sustainable infrastructure in the park, community science and the importance of working in conservation,” said Buse. “We picked up a trash and tracked it with the state’s app, which records voluntary pickups on the Alabama coast.”

The next morning, Wicknick’s students studied invertebrates on the beach, and Caplow’s students took a sustainability tour of Gulf State Park.

“It’s a very sustainable park that was rebuilt after the hurricane with funds from BP for the oil spill,” Caplow said. “They built it for sustainability and to withstand future hurricanes.”

That afternoon, the groups came together to explore the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Caplow said they took a tour with a natural resource planner who takes measurements and manages the reserve. This has piqued the interest of some students who are now considering working in this profession.

Blue Smith, a Montgomery junior biology major and lab assistant in Wicknick’s organism biology class, said the trip was an amazing learning experience and the most fun.

“I love sea life,” Smith said. “That was so much fun. We went net fishing in the cold water and caught tongue fish, a lizard fish, a pipefish that looks like a sea horse, and tiny wee jellies with no spines.

“It was really messy, but I came with my boots prepared. I knew what I was getting myself into and I had fun.”

Smith said she plans to become a marine biologist before the trip. Now this course has been strengthened.

“The people we met there said if we were interested they could tell us how to get an internship,” she said. “It wasn’t just an educational trip, but to be honest, it also became a career orientation trip.”

Buse said her career goal has always been to become a park ranger, but she didn’t realize prior to this trip that state parks encompass coastal regions. She now has other options to consider.

The trip ended with the groups having dinner together in Fairhope, giving the students space to explore on their own and interact with each other in more meaningful ways.

“These types of trips are so important for students to learn, explore ecosystems they’re unfamiliar with, and opportunities for summer jobs and post-graduation jobs,” Caplow said. “This is the first time we’ve done this and we certainly hope to do it again.”

“It was a success to shape their future and give them inspiration. It is a memorable trip that they will always remember from their college days at Montevallo.”

The two professors hope to take the students on a trip to Belize in spring 2023 as part of Wicknick’s conservation biology class.

“I love sea life,” Smith said. “That was so much fun. We went net fishing in the cold water and caught tongue fish, a lizard fish, a pipefish that looks like a sea horse, and tiny wee jellies with no spines.

“It was really messy, but I came with my boots prepared. I knew what I was getting myself into and I had fun.”

Smith said she plans to become a marine biologist before the trip. Now this course has been strengthened.

“The people we met there said if we were interested they could tell us how to get an internship,” she said. “It wasn’t just an educational trip, but to be honest, it also became a career orientation trip.”

Buse said her career goal has always been to become a park ranger, but she didn’t realize prior to this trip that state parks encompass coastal regions. She now has other options to consider.

The trip ended with the groups having dinner together in Fairhope, giving the students space to explore on their own and interact with each other in more meaningful ways.

“These types of trips are so important for students to learn, explore ecosystems they’re unfamiliar with, and opportunities for summer jobs and post-graduation jobs,” Caplow said. “This is the first time we’ve done this and we certainly hope to do it again.”

“It was a success to shape their future and give them inspiration. It is a memorable trip that they will always remember from their college days at Montevallo.”

The two professors hope to take the students on a trip to Belize in spring 2023 as part of Wicknick’s conservation biology class.

Leave a Comment