One college offers undergraduate students access to forests filled with reptiles and amphibians; the other a subtropical sanctuary to study birds. Both offer incredible opportunities for studying the natural world, but more than 500 miles apart.
In an attempt to make valuable, hands-on study of two diverse ecosystems more affordable, Maryville College near the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Jacksonville University in the coastal plain of Florida have formed a collaborative reciprocation agreement that lets students from both institutions stay on each other’s campus for no charge while visiting on extended field trips. MC and JU are also offering reduced meal plan options for the visiting students.
“This is a great opportunity for students from both universities to explore terrain and wildlife in a much more affordable way,” said JU Vice President for University Relations Derek Hall, who signed the agreement with Maryville. “Hats off to the professors involved, who want to expose their students to new environments and keep the costs down on a valuable educational trip.”
The agreement was enacted between Dr. Dave Unger, assistant professor of biology, and his long-time friend and former colleague, Dr. John Enz, assistant professor of biology and marine science at Jacksonville University.
“We thought that if faculty were allowed to host exchanges at other institutions, students should be able to as well,” Enz said. "As we look to do more for our students in today's economy, it’s important to think creatively and form partnerships with other universities for the benefit of all students. As lodging is the greatest cost in terms of field trips, this housing agreement is one such 'outside the box’ solution."(See video of Maryville students’ 2013 trip to Northeast Florida at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7PlVkKjFWw.)
According to Unger, the opportunity will allow for field trips with minimal cost requirements, as well as allow students to meet other students from a different location.
“This is a launching pad for us where students from two totally different environments can collaborate on research,” Unger said. “This uniquely benefits students from both colleges.”
From April 17 until April 22 of this year, Jacksonville University and Enz hosted Unger’s and Crain’s upper-level ornithology class (Biology 403). During the trip, 10 MC biology majors, Unger and Crain were able to study a variety of tropical birds, fossils and landscape.
Enz said he felt that the most important factor of the student trips is the exchange of ideas between students from different environments.
“We have biology students coming from such different ecological areas,” Enz said. “When students come from Tennessee to Florida, they see that the landscape is totally different from the deciduous forests. It’s exciting for me, as the instructor, when the students experience this whole new ecosystem.”
Maryville student Matthew Hale ’13 summarized the student sentiment for the trip: “This trip has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience I’ve had at Maryville College.”
Dr. Drew Crain, Maryville College professor of biology, added: “Without a doubt, Florida beaches make for great vacations, but for a biologist, the state’s coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, freshwater impoundments and scrubland offer an unmatchable experience – and education – that our students will remember forever.”
In September 2012, the vertebrate zoology class taught by Unger and assisted by Crain hosted a group of Enz’s herpetology students from Jacksonville University. The class was able to traverse both the 135-acre College Woods and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to study amphibians and reptiles.
“The area around MC is one of the most diverse in herpetology,” Unger said. “Each institution has a unique piece to offer in this reciprocation agreement for our science classes.”
The ornithology course is offered every other year at Maryville College, so Unger and Crain expect to make the trip to Jacksonville University again in Spring 2015, but it may be sooner.
“There’s potential for even larger collaboration as we refine this process,” Unger said. “We hope to continue this for many years to come, and that certainly will open up new opportunities for our students.”