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K-State Today

October 4, 2016

Found in the rainforest: Biology, creative writing combine for research trip to Ecuador

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A K-State student and a faculty member who were involved in a study abroad trip in May that included interdisciplinary research in biology and creative writing in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands will discuss the experience as part of SPARK Week 2016.

SPARK — which stands for Students Promoting the Advancement of Research at K-State — Week, Oct. 10-14, is a campuswide collaboration celebrating and promoting the opportunities for undergraduate research and creative inquiry at K-State. It is organized by the Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry.

Tiffani Lawrence, senior in secondary education-English and in theatre-dance option, and Elizabeth Dodd, university distinguished professor of English, will discuss their experiences at the SPARKx Talks at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, in the Big 12 Room at the K-State Student Union.

Lawrence said the research experience was the trip of a lifetime because of the opportunity for interdisciplinary learning in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.

Funding from the Office of International Programs, the College of Education's Diversity for Community Committee, and the Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry made the experience possible for Lawrence.

The 13-day exploratory trip brought several students and three faculty members from K-State to Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador. The program, Galapagos and Ecuador: Exploring Environment and Creative Writing at the Center of the World, included two classes in the College of Arts & Sciences: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction and Topics in Biology.

"We discussed how the equator is 'the center of the world' because of the astonishing level of biodiversity there," Lawrence said. "We went to a high-altitude rainforest, hiked a pre-Inca trail, swam with sea turtles and sea lions, and saw plenty of endemic species, which means they are only found in one place on Earth."

Another reason the course's name included the term "Center of the World" is because the equator was first identified by French researchers in an area just outside Quito, Ecuador, in the 18th century, according to Dodd.

The educational trip included writing assignments regarding each excursion. For example, when the group went bird-watching, each student searched for a specific bird the group had previously researched.

"I wanted the students to approach the scientific material from a humanities perspective," Dodd said. "The level of observation required for field research and biology is necessary in my field because excellent writing requires paying close attention."

Lawrence's funding stipulations included writing about the experience and submitting the written work for publication. To fulfill the requirement, she wrote a creative nonfiction essay, "Behind the Stars," a perspective on constellations and their roles in ancient Ecuadorian cultures. She submitted it to Kansas State University's Crossing Borders: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship.

Martha Caldas, associate teaching professor of biology, co-led the program and trip.

The following students also participated in the trip:

Alejandra Brown, junior in biochemistry; Kaleb Cox, sophomore in computer engineering; Yakira Frank, master's student in English; Christopher Sheffer, master's student in English; Abbey Sommerauer, junior in English; Blair Stephenson, senior in English literature; Gabrielle Vontz, senior in microbiology; Madeline Vontz, sophomore in open option; Victoria Vontz, senior in fine arts.

Frank's trip was partially supported by a grant from the College of Arts & Sciences.

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