by Alyson Rimsha, The Daily Lobo
UNM student Erin Schultz went to Australia in 2003 to study bioluminescent ostracods—animals that live in the ocean and glow in the dark.
"They're like bright blue flashes coming from the ocean," Schultz said.
She was able to study the animals because of a program offered through the University Honors Program.
The UNM Honors Program received an $111,800 grant to continue studying biodiversity in Australia on Wednesday.
Biodiversity is an analysis of the different parts of the earth and life on the different terrains.
Schultz said the program gave her an idea of what biology work is like.
"It provided me with an insight into real, raw, directly applied biology, not just studying it from a textbook," Schultz said.
She said the program confirmed her decision to major in biology.
"Up until that trip, I was unsure of what I wanted my major to be," she said. "After seeing the different and amazing places biology could take me and the amount of variety studying it could bring, I was sure that I at least wanted to pursue it further."
The National Science Foundation is funding the study-abroad program that gives UNM undergraduates hands-on experience.
Ursula Shepherd, associate professor at the University College Honors Program, said the program has been offered every other summer since 1998.
She said the grant is a renewal from last year's grant and covers students' airfare and tuition.
Rosalie Otero, director of University College Honors Program, said the program would not be possible without the grant. She said it enables students to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"It's an incredible opportunity and experience for students," she said. "Many students have won major awards and have been accepted into graduate programs."
Anna Cole, UNM graduate, took the course in 1998 and again as a graduate assistant in 2000. She said the course was a positive experience and had a huge impact on her life as a biologist.
"Having the experience was very important," she said. "It's neat to be traveling and exploring a different culture and continent with other students."
During the program, students participate in several group discussions, lectures, projects and presentations.
"It's a lot of work," Shepherd said. "It's a huge commitment for students."
Schultz said the course load was intense and time consuming.
"The course was very demanding at times with late-night lectures and deadlines, but the rewards were immeasurable," she said.
Shepherd said there is a weeklong orientation before the trip and a symposium after the course.
While the students are in Australia, they stay in scientific research stations, she said. The students live there for one month.
Shepard said the program consists of two three-credit classes in natural history and research methods.
According to the Web site, students are expected to work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The course will take place in northeastern Australia. Areas of study will include the tropic and subtropical rainforest, savannas and marine life, according to the site.
The purpose of the course is to give students the opportunity to study habitats outside the United States.
According to the Web site, the course gives students a chance to study the natural world and the process of scientific research.
Ten students will leave for Australia in June 2006.
Students must have a minimum 3.2 GPA to be eligible for the program.
Shepherd said honors program students are preferred, although other students can apply.
"It's a very competitive program," she said. "In the past we've had a lot more applicants than spots available."
Shepherd said they prefer biology majors or students in a related field.
All students must pay an institute fee covering room and board, lectures, ground travel and activities.
The program will start accepting applications in the fall.
This article was originally published in The Daily Lobo, UNM's independent, student newspaper, on March 28 2005.