New study abroad program draws ASU undergrads to Panama

July 29, 2014

Through study abroad programs, students experience new cultures, languages and people as they complete their coursework. But during Arizona State University’s new faculty-led Tropical Field Biology class, students also encounter three-toed sloths, poison dart frogs, monkeys, lizards and giant insects.

Eighteen School of Life Sciences undergraduate students traveled to Panama this summer to study biology, and to become fully immersed in a challenging field environment. Students stayed at a schoolhouse in Gamboa operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – a facility that is part of an innovative education and science partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Institute aimed at sustaining biodiversity on Earth. students find a frog while on a nighttime excursion Download Full Image

“We started this summer program with two main goals,” said Nico Franz, associate professor with the School of Life Sciences. “First, we wanted the students to experience the incredible biodiversity and wealth of biological interactions that occur in a tropical rainforest habitat. Second, the students took their first steps toward becoming researchers. They posed scientific questions, developed hypotheses and conducted studies to investigate their hypotheses. Their final report was presented in the style of an authentic scientific publication.”

Classwork was anything but typical. Students explored the rainforest, discovering tropical plants, vertebrate animals and insects during daily hikes. The group had many encounters with a variety of animals, including stingless bees, tree frogs, leaf-cutter ants, venomous snakes, toucans, iguanas, tarantulas and three-toed sloths, to name a few.

Along with Franz, Dale DeNardo, a reptile expert and associate professor with the school, and life sciences teaching assistants Meghan Duell and Salvatore Anzaldo also led the students on nighttime excursions along riverbeds.

“In the evenings, we set up a mercury vapor lamp and UV lights to attract and see insects,” said DeNardo. “Particularly along the riverbanks, we had many opportunities to see a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. Since we overlapped with the peak of the rainy season, animal species were out in great numbers. I’m sure this experience will be a highlight of our students’ undergraduate careers.”

Callie Hartson, an animal physiology and behavior major entering her junior year at ASU, said she was thrilled to be part of the study program.

“I've always wanted to explore a rainforest. When I found the course, I couldn't resist! It was the ultimate hands-on experience,” said Hartson, a Peoria, Arizona, native. “The knowledge was the most rewarding part of the whole experience. Even after living in Panama for three weeks, I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. There was so much to learn!”

Course topics varied from ecology, biodiversity, evolution and behavior to conservation, adaptation and human interactions with wildlife. Some of the highlights included climbing a 95-foot canopy tower to get a different perspective on the forest, an excursion to the Cerro Azul mountain region northeast of Panama City and a two-day trip to Barro Colorado Island – one of the most influential sites for New World tropical research worldwide.

The School of Life Sciences Tropical Field Biology class will be offered again in 2015.

The School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


High school students explore health care during ASU summer program

July 30, 2014

Allison Sorgeloos gently moves the Wii remote in her hand, but the marble on the screen she’s controlling rolls off the platform. The object of the game she’s playing is to make very precise movements to roll a marble through a maze and collect gems. While Sorgeloos and her friends, students at the Summer Health Institute @ ASU, are having fun competing, they are also honing skills they could someday use to save lives.

“The reason they’re playing this game is because it has a direct correlation to the hand movements of laparoscopic surgeons,” explained Joaquin Santa Cruz, simulation program coordinator for the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. “Our medical students actually use this game to practice.” high school students practicing intubation on a dummy Download Full Image

Twenty four rising high school seniors attended the weeklong camp led by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. They stayed with counselors at Taylor Place, ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus residential hall. The camp was fully funded by the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority and Banner Health.

When choosing students for this program, the selection committee considered not only those who had high GPAs (the campers’ average GPA was over 4.0), but also those who showed a genuine curiosity and passion for health and health care. This was the first Summer Health Institute @ ASU with more than 230 applicants. Students traveled to ASU from four counties in Arizona, as well as California, Michigan, Illinois and Colorado. Alison Essary, director of student affairs for the College of Health Solutions, said the program’s goal was to select students that reflected the population of Arizona.

“We want to prepare the health care workforce of the future, as well as a health care workforce that reflects the population it will serve,” she said.

Learning skills to save lives

Students participated in a variety of interprofessional health-related activities. Their mornings were spent with Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona faculty and staff for three hours of simulation at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, learning in the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix Sim Center. They practiced skills such as suturing, intubation, ultrasounds, dissections and IV placement. Students also received certification in continuous chest compressions and toured Arizona State University’s cadaver lab.

“It’s been an incredible learning experience,” said Sorgeloos. “I’ve learned more about what it really means to be in health care than I ever did volunteering in a hospital. I’ve met people who have inspired me to become greater, smarter and work harder.”

In the afternoons, students participated in "Mini Health Institutes," where they learned about topics like leadership, traditions in medicine, the U.S. health care system, interprofessionalism and careers in health. Students’ evenings were spent in professional development sessions where they learned how to work with librarians and how to apply for colleges, along with presentations by students in the health professions. For students like Mariam Gutierrez, the institute was a great way to learn about medical professions that they had not considered before.

“It’s been helpful because we get to learn about different health careers instead of just a doctor or a nurse,” she said. “The camp got me looking into becoming a physician assistant.”

The culmination of the program came on Friday when four groups each presented on an assigned disease: cystic fibrosis, Prader-Willi syndrome, Rett syndrome or sickle cell disease. Students first had to diagnose their patients, and then make a PowerPoint presentation on the diagnosed disease. The presentations had to include disease symptoms, research and promising treatments. Presentation slides could only consist of images, figures, video and digital media. Each group presented for 15 minutes in front of a panel that included a physician assistant, health science librarian and the director of the camp. After they presented, the groups had five minutes to answer the panel’s questions. A winner was picked based on which group was able to effectively present their disease and answer the panel’s questions.

“The people in my group have been really helpful,” said Sorgeloos. “It’s really cool how we all came together to look at the symptoms, break down the information that we had, diagnose a patient and provide some care for her, even if she is fictional.”

Working together toward success

Just as the students worked together, many organizations came together to create the Summer Health Institute experience. The Northern Arizona University Physician Assistant program and the University of Arizona medical school provided space, faculty and students to help educate the campers. Fortis College dental hygiene program provided lectures on oral health as a public health initiative, as well as fluoride varnish training. Mayo Clinic staff and faculty provided additional support.

Based on the success of this camp, ASU is already looking into holding another next year. They are collecting data from the campers and from camps around the country in order to better inform future programs. Essary says the camp was such a success and the campers were so great that they have to, at the very least, replicate the program next year.

“The campers are terrific,” she said. “They are incredibly motivated, enthusiastic and generous in their time and spirit. We’re fortunate to have them as our inaugural class.”

Gutierrez says the whole experience just reinforced her goals.

“I learned to keep going because it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s all new and it’s all a learning experience.”

Written by: Kaly Nasiff