Students reflect on ‘RARE’ experience
Several Radford University students and faculty emerged from the Amazon rainforest this summer enlightened and eager to share their life-changing experiences.
Fourteen students, representing a wide range of majors, participated in the annual Radford Amazonian Research Expedition (RARE) from May 15-June 5. Over the course of the three-week trip, students conducted individual research projects, engaged with local villagers, navigated the Las Piedras River, hiked, climbed and explored the jungle, pushed their boundaries, faced and tackled personal fears and trekked to the top of Machu Picchu mountain.
Through service, research, innovation and critical thinking, students made a prolific impact. In turn, the diverse people with whom they engaged and the different cultures they experienced were just as - if not more - impactful.
“This trip changed my view of the world,” said junior Cole Faulkner, a biology and chemistry major from Bland.
Faulkner’s RARE research centered on alkaloid identification in medicinal and non-medicinal plants that are found in the Amazon.
“What I hope to accomplish is to identify alkaloids in these plants and see if the alkaloids could be used for commercial and medicinal products,” he explained. “I would love to find a way to isolate some of the alkaloids, and if alkaloids are found, see if there is a way to conservatively cultivate the plants that contain them."
Since he could not bring all the materials to fully conduct his research, Faulkner dry-pressed all of his samples in the Amazon and will continue the research this upcoming fall semester.
“I gained an immense amount of field-research experience that helped me to grow as a scientist,” he said.
Facing personal fears was a major theme of the RARE trip for Lillie Price, a junior interior design major from Pleasant Garden, North Carolina.
“From handling snakes and caiman, to climbing trees, and generally spending time in the jungle, I was constantly facing lifelong fears,” Price said. “I definitely felt stretched during this experience, and I learned something new every day, whether it was academic learning or life lessons.”
Helping lead the students on the Amazonian adventure was Jean Mistele, an associate professor in RU’s Department of Mathrematics and Statistics. As an educator, Mistele said the most relevant RARE experience was observing teachers at a rural school in Lucerna, a small village of about 75-100 people. The school had two rooms – one for children in grades pre-K through kindergarten and one for children in grades one through six.
“It was fascinating to watch the teacher use different teaching methods that included whole-class activities…and individual activities for the children on their grade level,” she said. “Many times, the older children would assist the younger children for whole class activities or during some of the grade group activities. The small class size allowed the teacher to interact with the children individually when struggling learners needed the support. We were included in the full-class vocabulary lessons as we extended his lesson by teaching the children their vocabulary words in English, both in spoken and written form.”
Pre-service teachers Erin McGuigan, early education, and Laura Farrar, elementary education, designed two STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities for the children, including car- and tower-building exercises. The children were excited and fully engaged, Mistele said, as were the two RU students.
“They greatly enjoyed working with the children, and it further validated their decision to enter the teaching profession,” Mistele said. “The opportunity to support undergraduate students with their research and scholarly projects in the Amazon was a professionally fulfilling and exciting experience.”