Engman leads high school students to Belize

Dr. James Engman, professor of biology at Henderson State, led an extensive marine biology workshop in June for nine high school students and two teachers.  After a week of learning to snorkel, attending lectures, and performing lab work at Henderson’s Simonson Biological Field Station, the group left for a two-week field experience in Belize.

They spent a week at the Tropical Research and Education Center, a marine biology laboratory in San Pedro. The center provides lodging, lab and classroom space, and daily trips out to sea on its 48-foot catamaran.

The group spent a morning with an artisanal lobster fisherman, toured the water treatment facility, and interviewed island people about living on such a small island. They traveled inland and spent time learning about the ancient Mayan civilization, and had a caving experience at a site called Actun Tunichil Muknal, an undeveloped cave that was used by the Mayans for ritual ceremonies. Many artifacts and remains of human sacrifices untouched for over 1000 years were viewed.

A day was also spent traveling to neighboring Guatemala to visit the archaeological site at Tikal where tall stone temples tower above the tropical forest.

Students studied the basics of marine biology and oceanography. They learned to identify more than 150 different marine organisms by sight, including fish, coral, algae, crabs, mangrove plants, urchins, sea stars, brittle stars and sea cucumbers. 

Two students conducted a coral ecology project, making video transects on the reef that they will analyze. All of the students received four hours of college credit for their work. 

In addition to the formal coursework, students had exposure to other cultures and met people living in conditions very different from what they see in Arkansas.

The participants included five students from the Arkansas School of Math, Science and the Arts, two from the Kipp Charter High School in Helena, one from Des Arc, and another from Maumelle.

“Henderson provost Dr. Steve Adkison was instrumental in making this project a success,” Engman said. “He was supportive of the idea from the beginning, and helped significantly in making it possible for students to earn college credit for the experience.”