By: Tara Verghis
Like most other Miami students, when I used to think of Oxford in the summertime, I thought of it being a “ghost town.” Without the majority of the student body present, what could possibly be keeping it alive? Well, I recently found out that I was totally wrong; there’s a whole bunch of activity going on, thanks to a number of students, faculty, and other inhabitants of the town. When you plan for the upcoming summer, don’t forget about Miami. There are a ton of opportunities for cool research and projects that you could participate in and possibly even carry forward with you through the rest of the school year.
So without further ado, here are some of the science research projects that went on at Miami this past summer.
A number of Miami students, both graduate and undergraduate, spent this past summer working on Miami’s sustainable, organic farm. The students, along with staff at the farm and faculty from the Institute of Food and even the field manager of the Ecological Research Center, transformed the plot of land completely. What was formerly just a monoculture of corn became a fertile piece of farmland that now supports a number of sustainable cultivation practices and a variety of fruits and vegetables. All of the hours spent toiling under the sharp sun paid off; the farmland saw drastic changes in its soil fertility, productivity, and biodiversity.
A slightly different adventure that a number of students and faculty decide to take for the summer is to take part in one of numerous research opportunities. I was fortunate to get the chance to meet with Dr. Nancy Solomon, an animal behaviorist, who generously shared with me some of the different kinds of science research that take place during summer months. For instance, the National Science Foundation gives Miami a grant to host a certain number of students through a program called Research Experience for Undergraduates who are not traditionally represented in science, and give them the opportunity of working on a short term project over their own topic of interest, to finally create informative posters with their findings, and give talks explaining their work. An example would be a project done studying the factors affecting home range size in prairie voles.
Miami also offers students another similar research opportunity, called Undergraduate Student Scholars. Through this program, students conducted both animal behavior and genetic studies this past summer. The final posters they create are very often displayed in a photo exhibition during the spring.
Many other activities were carried out this summer, such as research in the Vanni-Gonzalez aquatic lab through which students went out to Hueston Woods to collect lake samples, volunteering at Hueston Woods and the Ecological Research Center, learning animal behavior by observing domestic cats, and so on.
A recent effort that faculty from the Biology department, along with enthusiastic students, have been undertaking is the creation and maintenance of a butterfly garden in the hope of restoring butterfly populations.
Dr. Solomon explained the importance of such a project using the example of monarch butterflies. The East population of these winged creatures spend their summers in the U.S and Canada, after which they migrate to a particular fir forest in Mexico to escape harsh weather conditions. The numbers of these butterflies have dwindled in the recent past due to habitat destruction, and although they are not native to this part of the country, they serve as major pollinators for the vast number of crops present.
Mentioned above are only a few examples of the various ways in which you can get involved in the Oxford community and gain invaluable experience during your vacations. So the next time you are planning your summer, keep Miami in mind, as your options might be more plentiful than you’d think!