Trip to Gulf Coast Educated and Inspired UM Environmental Studies Students

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

The students were split into two groups of 14. One group was a part of the Environmental Studies Program with Dr. Susan Caplow, an associate professor of environmental studies. And the other were students in Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jill Wicknick’s invertebrate zoology class.

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

On day one, after starting their trip at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Wicknick’s group went to the marshlands and Caplow’s students learned about microplastics at the beach.

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

“We got to learn a lot about the importance of microplastics and their removal from the coast, sustainable infrastructure in the park, community science and how important it is to work in conservation,” Buse said. “We did a litter pick up and tracked it with the state app that records volunteer pickups on the Alabama coast.”

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

“It’s a very sustainable park that was rebuilt after the hurricane using BP oil spill funds,” Caplow said. “They built it for sustainability and to stand 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 does measurements and manages the reserve. That piqued the interest of several students who are now considering working in that profession.

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

“I love sea life,” Smith said. “This was so much fun. We went seine net fishing out in the cold water and caught tonguefish, a lizardfish, a pipefish which looks like a seahorse and little itty-bitty jellies without stingers.

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

Smith said she was already planning to be a marine biologist before the trip. Now that trajectory has been strengthened.

“The people we met there said if we were interested in this, they could tell us how to get an internship,” she said. “It was not only an educational trip, but it also became a career guidance trip, honestly.”

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

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

“These types of trips are so important for students to learn, and explore ecosystems they’re not familiar with and opportunities for summer and after-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 in shaping their futures and giving them inspiration. It’s a memorable trip that they’ll always remember from their college days at Montevallo.”

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

“I love sea life,” Smith said. “This was so much fun. We went seine net fishing out in the cold water and caught tonguefish, a lizardfish, a pipefish which looks like a seahorse and little itty-bitty jellies without stingers.

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

Smith said she was already planning to be a marine biologist before the trip. Now that trajectory has been strengthened.

“The people we met there said if we were interested in this, they could tell us how to get an internship,” she said. “It was not only an educational trip, but it also became a career guidance trip, honestly.”

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

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

“These types of trips are so important for students to learn, and explore ecosystems they’re not familiar with and opportunities for summer and after-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 in shaping their futures and giving them inspiration. It’s a memorable trip that they’ll always remember from their college days at Montevallo.”

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.