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Big Research at Big Bend

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nathan King ’16, a biology and math double major, plans hiking routes at Big Bend National Park with biology professor Kelly Lyons.

Biology professor and students from across disciplines explore plant life at Big Bend National Park

by Anh-Viet Dinh '15

Big Bend National Park, with its surprisingly diverse ecosystem of more than 1,000 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals, is an ideal place for any biologist to observe the vast wildlife that exists there.

For Trinity biologist Kelly Lyons and five students in her plant biology class, this was a unique opportunity to visit as a class to hike the rocky trails, study ecological diversity and to camp overnight under starry skies.

Lyons plans the trip to Big Bend annually and strongly believes “it reemphasizes what they are learning in the classroom.” Lyons notes, “More important, the students are likely to leave the class with a desire to learn more and with a greater appreciation for plants.”

Christopher Robinson ’14, a biology major, agrees with Lyons. “Learning a subject from a textbook is so different than learning it the field,” Robinson says. “The trip put everything into perspective and helped me to understand the drastic variation present in plant morphology.”

The first day at Big Bend consisted of a twelve-mile hike to Emory Peak and eventually to an overnight campsite. Carrying clothing, food, water, and hiking gear, Robinson and Nathan King ‘16 were both surprised by the physical demands of the hike, but agree, “physically challenging [ourselves] is a part of [our] education.”

King saw the trip both as a great opportunity to learn as well as to build relationships with his professor and peers. “There were opportunities to interact one-on-one with the professor, to challenge myself, and to interact closely with my classmates,” says King. “Dr. Lyons was available at all times so there was a continuum of learning. We got to look at plants in the morning, midday, and at night.”

King, a sophomore, has declared a double major in biology and math, and believes the trip pulled on his biology heartstrings. “This trip showed me how interactive biology as a field is. As an undergraduate, I got an understanding of what the work would be like if I were to pursue a career in biology.”

The most enjoyable part of the trip for Lyons is seeing each student on their own path, engaging in what interests them most. “When I see students doing that,” Lyons says, “I know that I have succeeded.”

Anh-Viet Dinh '15, a biology major and photographer for marketing communications and campus publications, can be reached at adinh [at] trinity.edu.