Unique Opportunity for College Credit in Jamaica

September 5, 2001

When looking for a class that provides research time in the Atlantic Ocean, most people would not think of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. However, Henderson, under the direction of Dr. James Engman, professor of biology, offers one such educational opportunity in Jamaica. Usually a prime spot for honeymooners and tourists, Priory, St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, was chosen by the Hofstra University in New York for a marine laboratory. With the help of director and naturalist Gene Kaplan, the Hofstra University Marine Laboratory (HUML) stays open year-round for college and high school students. In order to provide the opportunity to learn in one of the most pristine ocean environments on Earth, HUML offers the facilities, equipment, accommodations and logistical support required to teach a marine biology course. Participants supply the cost of the trip and tuition for the summer school class.

The ocean provides one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and is not normally available to students at Arkansas universities. Three years ago, Engman took his first class of upper-level students to the Jamaican tidal pool where they were able to observe exotic fish, squid, octopus and coral reefs. This past summer, thirteen students made the trip to the Atlantic waters of Jamaica to participate in the marine biology class Engman teaches.

Students pack most of the work into three weeks of class time. However, before the plane trip, students must read the first half of each field guide, conduct library research and learn by name and physical description 114 organisms. They also practice the art of snorkeling at DeGray Lake. This preparation allows students to gain valuable insight into the Jamaican culture and ocean life.

According to Engman, the tropical marine systems are so different from what the students are used to seeing, almost everything they encounter in the field is new and exciting. “I don’t think there is a better place to be than hovering motionless over a coral reef,” says Engman. His passion for this research is evident. In the training handbook each student receives, Engman makes his excitement apparent. “I already have dibs on the algal genus Halimeda,” he writes.

Each student has a research project on which they focus. They are able to conduct research in the ocean and the classroom/laboratories that include specimen museums. There is also a computer-monitored weather station, a library, a chemistry lab and a multi-media room available to students, as well as a running sea water system with a 300-gallon aquarium to complete the hands-on environment.

Angie Arledge and Teri Tuxson used their research time to work on a self-selected project involving the introduction of captive damselfish into an established damselfish territory. It is this personal quest for discovery that makes this class so meaningful. Given latitude to explore their own curiosities, students come away enthused and enlightened.

“I want them to have the experience of coming up with their own question and carrying out a field experiment to try to answer it,” said Engman.
The opportunity is open to all college students and participants have come from Henderson, Ouachita Baptist University, University of Arkansas, and Illinois State University. For more information about the marine biology class or Henderson State University contact Engman at (870) 230-5314 or visit the marine biology class web site at www.hsu.edu/faculty/engmanj/jamclass.htm.


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