Project Dragonfly gives wings to eco-friendly research and education efforts

contributed by Leah Crowe Graduate student Leah Crowe, a member of Project Dragonfly, poses outside the Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia where she swam with sharks.
contributed by Leah Crowe
Graduate student Leah Crowe, a member of Project Dragonfly, poses outside the Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia where she swam with sharks.
contributed by Leah Crowe Reef HQ Aquarium, Australia
contributed by Leah Crowe
Reef HQ Aquarium, Australia

Project Dragonfly is an organization started by Miami University faculty and staff in the Western Program to give voice and promote conservation awareness in communities nationwide.

Beginning in the 90s with a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a children’s magazine, Project Dragonfly has been enriching the educational experience of adults and children alike. It gives adults the opportunity to earn a Master’s degree and kids a chance to promote their scientific research on a national level, the Director of Communications and Research for Project Dragonfly, Jamie Bercaw Anzano, said.

Starting with a magazine that allowed young scholars to publish their scientific research, Project Dragonfly has grown into a global program promoting ecological reform and through research and education.

Project Dragonfly offers online classes through its Global Field Program (GFP) to help graduate students earn credit toward a Master of Arts in teaching or a Master of Arts degree from Miami.

Students enrolled in the Global Field Program take 14 credit hours of Web-Based Learning Community courses, Anzano said. These online classes are designed for working professionals to discuss assignments, develop projects, and exchange ideas with other students are the globe.

Candidates in the GFP earn the remaining 21 credit hours needed for the master’s degree through three study abroad experiences known as Earth Expeditions.

Started in 2004 with just three partner countries, Earth Expeditions has expanded to give students the opportunity to travel to 13 exotic countries across the globe, earning seven credit hours per 10-day trip.

The Earth Expeditions travel experiences are designed to support and enrich the education of the GFP master’s candidates and bring a face-to-face component to the program, Anzano said. Miami undergraduates can also participate in the Earth Expeditions to earn credit toward their bachelor’s degree.

2007 Miami graduate Pattie Reuss earned her Master of Arts in zoology this past December. She started the GFP in 2011 and travelled to Baja, Malaysian Borneo, and Kenya.

“It was definitely life changing,” Reuss said.

Her favorite memory was swimming with wild whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez in Baja, but she said the best thing about the program was the camaraderie she felt with the other students.

“I think the connections with the people that you make are very, very strong,” Reuss said, “you all have something in common, you all care about the environment.”

Each course in the GFP begins in April with the Web-Based Learning Community courses, and finishes in December with a project the students design involving the environment and their communities.

“You create your own project, you drive your experience. We’re all about community participation, participatory education, voice and conservation action,” Anzano, who will be teaching a course this summer in Baja, said.

One of the projects Reuss started after finishing her trip to Borneo was teaching her high school science class about the palm oil industry and the negative effects it is having on the rainforest and habitat of the orangutan.

Not only did her students learn about the massive destruction caused by the palm oil industry, but Reuss gave them the tools to make a difference by sharing how to avoid products with palm tree oil.

“The whole goal of the program is not to say you’re going to make an impact, but to actually make an impact,” Reuss said.

The GFP is open to undergraduates and graduates alike, and draws students with different educational backgrounds from all over the country.

Current GFP student and Indiana high school Spanish teacher, Leah Crowe, said she had no science background before joining the program, but has gained confidence discussing and learning about scientific subjects.

“[The program] has given me a deep interest in the environment and given me the confidence and inspiration to know that I can make a difference in the fate of the natural world and that I can inspire others to care as well,” Crowe said.

Crowe has completed two of the three Earth Expeditions, travelling to Baja and Australia. During her time in Australia, Crowe was able to snorkel with leopard sharks in the coral reef tank at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

She will graduate in December 2014, but Crowe said she hopes to travel on each of the Earth Expeditions at least once in her lifetime.

Project Dragonfly encompasses more than just the global aspect. Anzano said it is about the students continuing to spread the knowledge gained through international experience to promote ecological awareness at the local level.

In its early stages, Project Dragonfly partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo for a project known as iSaveSpecies. The project involved installing kiosks in zoo exhibits to engage the zoo public on science conservation and action, both on the grounds and outside of the zoo. iSaveSpecies has since expanded to include a consortium of zoos throughout the country, Anzano said.

As Project Dragonfly continues to grow, its goals have remained the same. The program is meant to inspire action and give voice, to provide participants with new perspectives, to enrich their educational goals and to encourage them to use what they learned about the environment to impact their communities.

“It is hard to put into words the transformation that I have experienced in the last two years,” Crowe said, “I have been exposed to some of the most inspirational people on the planet. Their enthusiasm is contagious and has awoken in me the desire to spread this enthusiasm to my students and my community in order to help them become conscientious global citizens.”

*This post was featured in The Miami Student

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