Seagulls squawked as Northern Essex Community College Natural Science Professor Sarah Courchesne and a half dozen of her students chased them across Appledore Island in Maine as part of a seagull banding project, funded in part, by the Verizon Foundation.
Over the last two summers, about two dozen Northern Essex students under the tutelage of Courchesne, coordinator of the project, have trapped and banded Great Black-Backed and Herring gulls and collected blood samples at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island. Each year, the Verizon Foundation has donated $10,000 to the field science program that brings NECC students out of the classroom and into nature where they gather data that is then brought back to the classroom so biology and lab science students could perform diet analysis and necropsies of dead gulls.
Last year the funds were used to purchase GPS technology to tag the individual sea birds to track their movements. This year’s grant funds the purchase of additional tags and a base station used to monitor the individual seagulls throughout the year.
“We know that allowing students to experiment, question, and practice science themselves is the best way to stimulate and maintain their interest in science not only as a subject, but as a verb,” said Courchesne, NECC natural sciences professor who oversees the project. “Opportunities for students to participate in and perform their own research are limited at community colleges…on-campus research opportunities are slim…By expanding our campus outward to include work at the Shoals Marine Laboratory we bring our students into a community of world class scientists, and by bringing that work back into the classroom students can analyze the material in our labs and we broaden their understanding of what being a science student means.”
While seven NECC students participated in each of the two annual Appledore trips, a total of 48 students in the fall and spring semesters participate in the microbiological and DNA analysis of the summer samples collected in the field.
“In order to be prepared for jobs of the future, it’s essential for every student to have access to experiential learning, which is why the Verizon Foundation supports programs that engage students in science, technology, engineering and math education,” said Verizon Foundation spokesperson Stephanie Lee. “With about 9 million available STEM jobs – and over 4 million available jobs in science and technology alone – students need access to education and resources that will prepare them for success in tomorrow’s high-tech world. We are proud to partner with Northern Essex Community College to bring opportunities for students to explore science in its natural habitat.”
Northern Essex offers an Associate of Science in Biology; an Associate of Applied Science in Laboratory Science; and an Associate of Art in Liberal Arts: Physical Science.