A recent 300-level biology and environmental studies class focusing on Belize aims to combine marine biology with field research and Central American culture.
Though there are 21 students participating in the class, an additional half-credit is offered to the 10 students who choose to participate in field research on a barrier reef in Belize over the summer.
Professor of Biology Linda Dybas ‘64 has taught this class biannually since its conception.
“I’m a marine biologist stranded in the cornfield, so you have to be a little creative,” she said.
This class is intended to spark creativity in others as well, as it lacks the traditional biology prerequisites of similar classes.
“I encourage people to take it from any discipline,” Dybas said.
She added that though the course focuses on marine biology, there is also some focus given to Belize culture, such as the influence of Mayan culture.
The focus of the syllabus will be reflected in the trip to Belize with various subjects echoed in the activities. Within the world of marine biology, the course emphasizes the environment present in the world’s second largest barrier reef. The culture component is seen again when the class visits Mayan ruins. Since every student will not be participating in the fieldwork, the class does not work exclusively within the Belize framework, though according to Dybas, everything has an applicable Belizean example.
Much of the coursework done in Belize will take place during snorkeling expeditions while students study mangrove ecology. This is a highlight for junior Arnold Salgado. A Chicago native, Salgado has never been to Belize and expressed excitement at the prospect of being able to snorkel and “be up close to these animals I’m normally not around.”
Sophomore Amber Hogan was more attracted to the prospect of visiting Mayan ruins.
“I’ve seen other ruins. I’m very excited for these, though. I know it’ll be interesting and I feel like just going will reinforce what we’ve been learning,” she said.
Dybas emphasized that this course would force students to step outside of their comfort zones. They will experience water shortages, have food prepared by Belizean cooks and visit a completely different part of the world.
“We usually know everybody where we stay,” Dybas said, mentioning that this particular area near the barrier reef has yet to be swept up by tourism. “It’s a good opportunity to mingle with people, to learn from them as well as learning about the value of a coral reef.”
Dybas said that throughout her time planning the trip she has developed a knowledge base of Belize, which helps her plan the activities she believes students will appreciate. She tries to add a new event to the schedule every time. This year they will be going to the Pine Mountain Ridge.
“Who knows how interesting that’s gonna be, but we haven’t been up close and personal with that ecosystem,” she said.