ARMSTRONG, S.L.; MCKEOWN, J.P.; Millsaps College; Millsaps College: Starting an Undergraduate Field Research Program

There are many opportunities for undergraduates to study abroad in a classroom setting or living with a local family, but biological field research is usually reserved for graduate students. In the summer of 2002, we began a successful undergraduate research program at the Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve in southern Yucatan, Mexico, a 2000 ha tract of second-growth dry forest owned by Millsaps College and administered in cooperation with the Mexican government. The purpose of the program is twofold: to introduce undergraduates to research methods in field biology, and to begin a baseline biological survey of the property. Undergraduate students working at the Reserve are assigned a problem to fit their interests and background in biology. Projects may be done as Undergraduate Research credit or as part of the Honors or Ford Fellowship Programs. Each student does a literature review prior to the summer field season. In the field, students collect, identify, and preserve their specimens, and maintain field notebooks. Upon returning to campus, each student writes a formal report of their findings in the standard research report format. Students are evaluated on appropriate use of the literature, quality of their collections and identifications, and their final research report. In our first season, five students and two faculty created a temporary field laboratory at a partially-restored plantation near the reserve. Four of the students collected and identified insects, concentrating on the orders Coleoptera, Diptera, and Hymenoptera. The fifth student cataloged plant pollen to compare to samples from the pre-Columbian archaeological site on the property to identify the plant materials available to the former inhabitants. Students not only learned a lot of biology, but also life-long skills of communication, self-reliance, tolerance, and reflection.