DEI Scholars Program Reflection by Ava Claus
By Ava Claus
I can still remember the first time I walked into the collections vividly. The classroom where we would spend the next six weeks learning how to identify insects, digitize specimens, and prepare samples to be DNA barcoded greeted me with taxidermy animal heads covering an entire wall. Walking through the rest of the collections is a similarly astounding experience; giant replicas of bugs hang from the ceiling, and the building is full of cabinets upon cabinets of samples. From the moment I stepped foot into the building, I knew the next six weeks would be more eye-opening and thrilling than I could have ever imagined.
Rather than writing pages and pages about each week of the program, I thought I would highlight some of my favorite memories overall:
The first field trip to the Bighorn Mountains. It was my first time camping and definitely won’t be my last. We were giddy trying out our aspirators for the first time and seeing a gila monster in an old mine shaft. I trapped an itty-bitty pocket mouse (much smaller than the kangaroo rat I’m pictured holding below), and holding it while measuring it made me really appreciate the beauty of life.
Going to a church near campus to see a pair of nesting owls that live there. The owls stretched and yawned for us and we all died of a cuteness overload. I had previous experience with bird watching, but being able to get so close to these truly incredible birds was thrilling.
Preparing the same pocket mouse I caught to be preserved in the collections. Seeing how detailed the miniature organs and skull were was amazing, and not disgusting or nausea-inducing like I feared.
Looking at the insects I caught under a microscope and marveling, once again, at how incredibly detailed their bodies were despite their size. Going through the taxonomic keys and identifying each bug was time-consuming but made me really appreciate the uniqueness between different species.
The second field trip to Pinto Springs. The area we were staying in was a gorgeous riparian area where we got to catch (and hold!) lizards, look for frogs, and bird watch. My favorite part of the trip was the 2.5 hour hike/bird watching expedition we went on early Saturday morning; it was so peaceful taking in the scenery and listening for birds, and I came back from the trip feeling refreshed.
Eating fruit during plants week! We were able to look at lots of cool plants under the microscope and learn about their reproduction, but everyone’s favorite part of the week was tasting over a dozen different types of fruit while we learned about the differences between them.
Speaking with everyone in the collections and other experts in the field. It was incredibly valuable and eye-opening to be able to speak to experts on their educational journeys and ask for advice about research, grad school, and more. Everyone’s excitement was contagious, and I loved witnessing everyone’s passion as they explained the minute differences between different species of beetles or bird calls.
As a Sustainability major with an ecosystems concentration, I’ve always been passionate about nature and protecting Earth’s natural beauty. Being able to experience Earth’s beauty firsthand---by listening to birdsong on an early morning hike, or tasting plants I didn’t even know were edible on a camping trip---provided me a sense of inspiration and devotion to the fight to protect Earth’s biodiversity that lectures and labs will never be able to replicate. I am forever grateful for this incredible experience.