Student and Professor Mark First BVU Presence in Antarctica

Student and Professor Mark First BVU Presence in Antarctica

Student and Professor Mark First BVU Presence in Antarctica
Top left: Dr. Melinda Coogan observing an elephant seal colony. Right: Laura Page preparing to travel on a motorized rubber boat. Bottom left: the pair with an Antarctic guide atop Collins Glacier.

In January, a Buena Vista University student and professor became the first representatives of BVU to set foot on Antarctica as part of an academic program.

Laura Page, a junior biology major from Hutchinson, Kansas, and Dr. Melinda Coogan, assistant professor of biology, spent two days, Jan. 12-13, on King George Island — one of the South Shetland Islands. During their stay they visited scientific research stations operated by Russia and Chile, viewed the wildlife — penguins and leopard seals — from small motorized rubber boats and hiked to the top of Collins Glacier.

“We stayed overnight at the Russian Bellingshausen Station which houses both research scientists and Russians assigned to work in Antarctica for variable periods of time,” says Coogan. “Although it was a Russian field station, we met scientists from around the world. Our conversations with the scientists were very interesting, but we personally were not able to conduct any research due to our limited time on the island.”

They also visited Trinity Church, a small Russian Orthodox Church near the Bellingshausen Research Station and the southernmost Eastern Orthodox Church in the world. “The priest was very welcoming and even invited Laura to join him for a lesson on the art of creating bell tower music.”

Laura traveled to Chile in late December and stayed there through BVU’s January interim to study at Puerto Williams, Navarino Island and the Omora Ethnobotanical Park, a continuation of research and collaborations she had initiated in January 2012 as one of six students in BVU’s inaugural Global Fellows program. On the latest trip, she researched the perception of Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic region through the lens of language.

Coogan was a faculty advisor to the first group of Global Fellows in January 2012 and accompanied the second group of Global Fellows to Chile this year.

“My research this year involved comparing the local, regional and global ecological knowledge of the different subpopulations in Puerto Williams,” says Laura. “As part of this research, I conducted an independent research project that focused on Antarctica. Traveling to Antarctica enabled me to analyze my data from an entirely new perspective.”

“This was truly a global experience because our trip consisted of travelers, guides, scientists, and other Antarctic workers from Russia, the Ukraine, Chile, Uruguay, Poland, China, and Australia,” says Laura. “It was very exciting to see so many nations working in close proximity to learn about and study our world.”

“In light of the global perspective initiative that BVU has implemented in part through University Seminar and travel course opportunities, the trip to Antarctica was eye-opening with regard to global cooperation and the new cultures I encountered,” says Laura. Following the trip to Antarctica, she returned to Punta Arenas to resume her research project and Coogan rejoined the Global Fellows students at Omora Park.

Laura says on her trip with the Global Fellows students last year she experienced the natural beauty of Navarino Island. “This year, I experienced the other part of the island’s beauty — the people. I could not believe their warm and welcoming nature. They were interested in me and what I was doing, while I was curious about their lives and culture. It became a reciprocal experience that was enriching and unforgettable.”

Coogan investigated the possibility of collecting biological and water samples in Antarctica to include in the research she will be doing during her sabbatical this spring semester at the University of North Texas (UNT). However, all activities in Antarctica and its surrounding waters are highly protected by a unique agreement between participating countries, including the United States, that have become part of the Antarctic Treaty. “The Omora program, under the direction of Dr. Ricardo Rozzi, maintains a similar focus on environmental protection within the Sub Antarctic region, but I will be able to work with macroinvertebrate samples collected by UNT researchers from the waters of Navarino Island,” she adds.

A portion of the cost of Laura’s trip to Chile and Antarctica was funded through BVU’s J. Leslie Rollins Fellowship. Laura will be presenting a BVU program about her trip sometime this spring semester.