Archives

Jacob Meyers ’08

Jacob recently completed his Ph.D. at Colorado State University. He has been conducting research on new approaches to control disease-carrying mosquitoes. His research was described in a paper–“Mosquitocidal properties of IgG targeting the glutamate-gated chloride channel in three mosquito disease vectors (Diptera: Culicidae)”–that was published in the May issue of Journal for Experimental Biology. And his paper was highlighted as the “Editor’s Choice” for that issue of the journal. Despite the fact that malaria mortality rates have fallen steadily since 2000, the disease threatens half the human population and kills one child every minute. Moreover, resistance in mosquitoes to the primary pesticide used to control them is increasing. A new mosquitocidal candidate has arisen in an old drug, ivermectin, which has been successfully used against parasitic worms that cause diseases such as onchocerciasis (River Blindness). However, little was known about the process by which ivermectin worked against mosquitoes. Jacob’s research elucidated the site (called the glutamate-gated chloride channel, part of the insect’s nervous system) and the mechanism of action at that site which were responsible for ivermectin’s effectiveness. Based on what was learned from that discovery, Jacob tested a new strategy, essentially substituting for ivermectin an antibody to the glutamate gated chloride channel. His preliminary tests confirmed the antibody insecticide’s effectiveness against the mosquito that transmits malaria. In two other disease-carrying mosquitoes (yellow fever and West Nile virus) the antibody did not pass across the gut, which prevented any insecticidal effect. The next step is to immunize cattle with the antibody. Cattle are a major source of blood meals for mosquitoes. It is hoped that malaria-bearing mosquitoes that consume cattle blood carrying the toxic antibodies during the malaria parasite’s incubation period would die, disrupting transmission of the disease. A new antibody insecticide may offer hope for a malaria-free future.

Jacob is married to classmate Alyssa Brayshaw ’08. This year Alyssa was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her doctoral work. She will begin work in the fall on her Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. She plans to focus her research in the field of wildlife disease ecology, concentrating on Chagus Disease, which threatens to cross the Texas-Mexico border. Jacob was offered and accepted a post-doctoral position at Texas A&M in the lab of a population geneticist studying mosquito populations on Bioko Island and other field sites in West Africa. Jacob majored in chemistry at K. Alyssa majored in biology and studied abroad in Nairobi, Kenya.

 

Samantha Wolfe ’13

Samantha recently served as an AmeriCorps New Jersey watershed ambassador working in the Assicunk, Crosswicks and Doctors Creek watersheds. “I hosted a volunteer monitoring training at the Tulpehaking Nature Center, with eight volunteers,” she is quoted as saying. “We spend many hours together. It had gone so well that I was on cloud nine at the end of the training. I’m so grateful for the time I have spent in New Jersey.” Samantha’s comments were part of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection’s effort to recruit Americorps watershed ambassadors for 2016. Samantha majored in biology at Kalamazoo College and studied abroad in Beijing, China.

Kate Jenks ’02

Kate is a conservation biologist at the Minnesota Zoo. Her mission is to reduce threats to wildlife by using science to solve conservation problems. “I seek to see a planet full of life and awe-inspiring wild places.” She assists the Tiger Species Survival Plan and Tiger Conservation Campaign, and she organizes the zoo’s Recycle for Rainforests Program. She continues her research on dholes in Thailand and is collaborating with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Mongolia on a project related to reintroduced Przewalski’s horses. Her former biology professor, Paul Sotherland, is a big fan. “CONGRATULATIONS,” he wrote to Kate, “on doing such cool stuff!”

Sarah Rockwell ’02

arahRockwellSarah manages the Klamath Bird Observatory’s bird monitoring work on the Trinity River Restoration Program in northwestern California. Body temperature and blood work-ups provide indicators of human health; in a somewhat similar way birds are indicators of a functional river ecosystem. Sarah manages research looking into how changes in habitat structure associated with river restoration are related to bird abundance, diversity and demography. Results shape and assess river restoration activities. Sarah joined KBO in 2013 after earning her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. She studied the ecology of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. At K, she majored in biology with a concentration in environmental studies. She studied abroad in Ecuador. KBO is a scientific non-profit organization that achieves bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds that frequent the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. KBO emphasizes high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, and the organization specializes in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. It nurtures a conservation ethic in local communities through outreach and educational programs.

Brett Blaauw ’05

Brett co-authored a paper that appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology. According to paper’s other co-author, Rufus Isaacs, theirs is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage for farmers when they create wild bee habitat next to cultivated fields. The two entomologists planted marginal land surrounding blueberry fields with a mix of native perennial wildflowers. Even though the fields were pollinated by honey bees trucked in for the purpose, Brett discovered that, after a period of two years, the rising population of wild bees increased blueberry yields by 10 to 20 percent. That increase more than offset the costs of making the marginal land attractive to wild bee populations. Brett was the lead author on the paper. The K biology major completed his Ph.D. at Michigan State University under Isaacs and is now working at Rutgers University.

Nancy Huntly ’77

Nancy is the Scientist in Residency Fellow for the month of September at the Sitka Sound Science Center. Nancy is a professor in the biology department and the director of the ecology center at Utah State University (Logan). She also chairs the committee that administers Science Unwrapped, the USU College of Science public engagement program. She earned her B.A. in biology at K and her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona. Since 2004 she has studied the human ecology of the northern Gulf of Alaska region. Her interests in Alaska are particularly in landscape legacies, food webs, and sustainable resource use.

Dan Babbitt ’96

Biologist, educator, and “bug geek,” Dan manages the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion (part of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History). He contributed his expertise to a recent NPR report (the delightfully titled “How Animals Hacked the Rainbow and Got Stumped on Blue”) about the evolution of the uses of color by animals. Turns out that living and reproducing depended occasionally on an organism’s ability to make itself a certain color. And it further turns out that the color blue was difficult for animals to make by ingesting dietary pigments (many animals get their color from their food). According to Dan, if you can’t make blue, then make the optical technology to appear blue. The entomologist then provides a beautiful example–the blue morpho butterfly, some of which he keeps at his insect zoo. They have tiny transparent structures on their wing surface that reflect light in a way that makes the wings appear so blue it hurts your eyes. But ground up wings, robbed of the reflective prism structures, look gray or brown. At K Dan majored in biology, and his study abroad in Ecuador gave him ample opportunity to pursue his love of insects, a passion he traces back to his freshman year aquatic ecology class. Dan has never forgotten the influence of K on the trajectory of his career. Not long ago he sponsored a K externship at the insect zoo.

J. Peter Coppinger ’99

Peter is an associate professor of biology at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. Peter’s research interests include plant-microbe interactions and identification of phytoplasma in wildflowers. He teaches courses in cell and molecular biology, genetics, industrial microbiology, and plant biology. Peter earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and studied abroad in Aberdeen Scotland. After he graduated from K he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and studied rainforest ecophysiology at Macquarie Univeristy in Sydney, Australia. He earned his Ph.D. in plant biology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Dan Blustein ’06

Dan is the subject of “Member Spotlight” for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The article (by Laura Petersen) is titled “Dan Blustein journeys from marine biology to Hollywood and back again,” and it’s a good read, chronicling his interesting forays in the saga explicit in the title–though “back again” might more accurately refer to “marine robotics” rather than marine biology. Of particular note is the reference to Dan’s opportunities in K’s externship program. Those two experiences, one with octopi at the Seattle Aquarium and the other job-shadowing a physician, helped clarify what he wanted to do. Of course the article showcases that Dan’s path has been more spiral than straight line. How cool (and liberal arts!) is that.

Earth Words

“. . . we go to poetry … so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”  – Christian Wiman, poet

Gabriella Donofrio ’13 (left) and Alice Bowe ’13 sort and plant lettuces at Harvest of Joy Farm in Shelbyville, MI.

Amy Newday plants seeds in soil (she runs her own farm), and she plants seeds in students (she directs K’s Writing Center and teaches classes in the English department). Some seeds grow green crops. Others grow green poetry.

Newday recently completed a winter term course called “Ecopoetry,” and is currently teaching a spring term senior Capstone class called “CSA (community-supported agriculture) and Sustainability.” The two courses are an integral part of Kalamazoo College’s ongoing creation of a Center for Environmental Stewardship, teaching students about the impact of human life on their world.

“I feel a strong call to be of service to the earth and the non-human beings we share it with,” says Newday. “As I get older and get to know myself better and as our ecological crises worsen, this call becomes stronger. What I was curious to explore with my students in the ecopoetry course was—what does poetry have to do with ecological crises? Can poetry be a vehicle for transforming our relationships with the ecosystems in which we dwell?”

A farmer and a poet, Newday grew up on dairy farm in Shelbyville, Michigan. Her “Ecopoetry” course drew thirteen students, all of whom participated in a reading on campus to draw their class to a close. Each student read a poem from the textbook that had especially moved or inspired them.

Emily Sklar ’15 was one of those students, a biology major with an interest in ecological issues. “I love biology, although I’m not quite sure yet what I will do with it,” Sklar says. “I also love being outdoors, and I’m concerned about the environment, so I’ve been wondering how to combine all that. Science comes short on the ethical and moral aspect of ecological issues, so that’s why I took the poetry course. Poetry gives me another way to understand what’s around me, and the course has given me a blend of language that builds collaboration between scientists and poets.”

“Ecopoetry” is a relatively new term, if not quite a genre in its own right, Newday explains. “Writing about daffodils is no longer enough. Critics beat up poets like Mary Oliver for being what they call a ‘nature poet,’ writing about birds and trees. Writing about birds and trees is important, but ecopoetry includes the bulldozer that knocks the tree down and destroys the bird.”

Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.

Three main groupings of poetry compose the new genre, Newday says. As defined by Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura Gray-Street, the editors Newday’s class textbook, The Ecopoetry Anthology, poetry that explores nature and the meaning of life falls into the first group. A second group includes environmental poetry with a more political slant that may address social justice issues and is often related to specific events. The third group includes poetry about ecology, often in more experimental forms.

“In this course we explored how the language of poetry has shaped and reflected changing perceptions of nature, ecology, and humanity over the past two centuries,” Newday says. “We looked at what poetry can contribute to current cultural and cross-cultural conversations about environmental justice and sustainability.”

Students at the reading in March read favorite poets they had studied, such as, yes, Mary Oliver, and also Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Ralph Black, G. E. Patterson, Deborah Miranda, Tony Hoagland, Robert Duncan, Lucille Clifton, Lola Haskins, Sandra Beasley, and Linda Hogan. Some students also read their own work.

“I’m not a big reader,” Sklar admits. “But I fell in love with this poetry. What I had hoped would happen, happened. The facts in science are great, but poetry gives us a way to connect to people who aren’t scientists.”

The ecopoetry course, Sklar adds, helped her to solidify an idea for her Senior Individualized Project that she’d been mulling over for about a year. Her interest in nature, biology, ecology, and human responses to all three came together in a plan to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Along with a K alumna, Margaux Reckard ‘13, Sklar began 2,200-mile adventure a few days after the poetry course concluded (see “Where the TinyTent AT?” in this issue of BeLight).

“Poetry can help us question,” Newday says. “We are losing all kinds of diversity in our world, and cultures and languages are being lost along with biodiversity. Languages each give us a unique way to see the world and add perspective. Poetry can help us imagine possibilities … possible solutions to ecological crises.”

Harvest of Joy farmer John Edgerton (left) discusses with students (l-r) Chandler Smith ’13, Caroline Michniak ’13, and Alicia Pettys ’13 different techniques for organic and sustainable planting.

In her senior Capstone course, “CSA and Sustainability,” Newday digs even deeper into building connections between students and the earth. Along with textbooks, she hands them trowels, hoes, shovels and watering cans. She takes her students to her own CSA operation, Harvest of Joy Farm, where she and partner John Edgerton practice sustainable and organic methods of farming.

The Capstone course, Newday says, offers students the opportunity to explore and experience food systems, agriculture, community building, education, economics, business, and food justice as an alternative to the mainstream food economy. If that sounds like it’s dealing with a great many topics—it is, and that’s the everyday life of a farmer.

Part of the course will take place in the traditional campus classroom, and for at least three hours each week students will work on the farm. They will help plan the CSA business, prepare the soil for planting and then plant a wide assortment of seeds and plants, maintain compost and learn about permaculture, and maintain and harvest the garden. Students will also experience the business aspects of running a CSA, the marketing and selling of vegetables to community members, and the relationships built between farmer and community members.

The course will also involve an ongoing blog of farm activities, and a student-generated on-campus collaborative project. Students will participate in discussions about their experiences and observations working on the farm.

In informational sessions held prior to the beginning of the course, Newday and Edgerton met with students interested in learning more information before making a decision to enroll.

“I was surprised how much I loved running a CSA,” Newday says to the students gathered to hear about the course. “The relationships we developed through the CSA were very rewarding. There’s an instant gratification when you give good food to people, and you see how excited they are to receive it, taste it, and share it.”

The concept of a CSA, Newday tells the students, is not the traditional business model of trading cash for product. “A CSA offers people the opportunity to invest in the kind of world they want to live in.”

The Harvest of Joy Farm is in its fourth year. At the beginning of last summer’s (2013) growing season, 45 members paid for 28 shares and half-shares in the operation, which provided the funds to cover the costs of farming. In return, shareholders receive vegetables and fruits each week during harvest.

“The course will help students to better understand the economics of farming, especially on a small scale, and to consider how small farms fit into the larger agricultural economy, in the United States and across the world,” says Newday. “Along with learning about sustainable agricultural practices, students will learn how to critically consider what it means to make environmentally, socially, and ethically sound food choices.”

To learn more about the Kalamazoo College Capstone CSA experience, read student blog entries, and view photos, visit kzoocsa.blogspot.com.  To learn more about Harvest of Joy Farm, LLC, visit harvestofjoyfarm.wordpress.com.