The phrase “once-in-a-lifetime experience” comes up in pretty much every conversation you have with Butler biology students about their two-week class this summer in Panama.
A day that started by walking the Pipeline Road, where over 1,000 species of birds can be observed at one time or another, and ended watching researchers collecting bats, observing their facial anatomy, and listening to the sounds they make as they attempt to echolocate. Getting to take a crane ride more than 130 feet in the air to see the tops of the forest. Seeing howler monkeys and sloths up close. Meeting the researchers on Barro Colorado Island, the most intensively studied tropical forest, where they examine an array of plant and animal diversity. Snorkeling, and coming face to face with a jellyfish and nurse shark. And so much more.
“I’ve been bragging about it ever since I’ve been back,” said Katelyn Glaenzer, a senior from St. Louis majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry and Classics. “It’s hard to pick out what the coolest thing about it was because everything was so cool.”
Glaenzer was among the 11 students (10 Biology majors and one Spanish major who served as an interpreter) who took the trip in late May and early June with Biology Professors Travis Ryan and Phil Villani for their Terrestrial Tropical Biology class. Butler offers the course every two years to give students the opportunity to see for themselves what others may only read about.
“Our goal is to put the class in front of as many different people doing as much different things in tropical ecology as possible,” Biology Professor Travis Ryan said. “So they’re not just hearing it from me and Phil Villani – they’re hearing it firsthand from people doing the research.”
The course is heavily subsidized through an endowment from Frank Levinson ’75, part of a $5 million gift to the sciences in 2007 that also enabled the University to buy the Big Dawg supercomputer and make upgrades to the Holcomb Observatory telescope. Ryan said Levinson’s endowment covers more than half the course and also pays for two Butler interns to spend the summer interning at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
One of every three Butler interns who works there becomes an author on a paper they helped collect data on, and most have their own independent project they’re working on while they’re interning, Ryan said.
Evynn Davis, a senior from Downers Grove, Illinois, majoring in Biology, with minors in French, Chemistry and Environmental Studies, said her favorite part of the trip was visiting Barro Colorado Island, the home of so many different research projects.
“We walked around and ran into people and their projects and learned about the island and its dynamics,” she said. “That experience of getting to see research that we’ve heard of or research that we have studied in action was really awesome.”
Cindy Cifuentes, a senior Biology and Environmental Studies Major from Crawfordsville, Indiana, said her favorite experience in Panama was meeting with people in Rachel Page’s bat lab and getting to see firsthand how they catch their bats for their research.
“I learned so much about bats that night and what type of research they are doing with them,” she said. “It sparked an unknown interest and admiration I have for them. It was something I could see myself doing in the future, which got me excited.”
Photos by Evynn Davis and Katelyn Glaenzer