From species surveys and behavioral ecology on nearby islands to right whale migration studies to experiments with alternative materials for farm inputs, student research opportunities abound at College of the Atlantic. Independent investigation is one of the distinctive characteristics of a COA education and one of the reasons the college has been dubbed “the graduate school for undergraduates.”

Porcia Manadhar ’17Porcia Manadhar ’17Equally as rare in higher education is the opportunity for undergraduates to present their research at national and international conferences. But this is routine practice at COA where every student must also do a term-long independent internship as well as a senior capstone research project.

The most recent example of students presenting their work at a regional conference occurred last month when five COA students attended the 2015 Northeast Natural History Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Professors John Anderson and Nishanta Rajakaruna ’94 brought students Paul Excoffier ’15, Natasha Krell ’16, Porcia Manandhar ’16, Ian Medeiros ’16, and Bik Wheeler ’09 MPhil ’15 to the two-day conference.

Paul Excoffier ’15Paul Excoffier ’15“It has been a pleasure taking students to the Northeast Natural History conference over the last seven years,” said Dr. Nishanta (Nishi) Rajakaruna ’94, a professor of botany at COA. “It is not only a perfect venue for students to make their first research presentations but also an ideal setting to make valuable professional contacts for graduate schools or ecology-related work opportunities in the region.”

Students shared their research findings during the poster presentations and were on hand to talk about their work during two receptions during the conference. The list of COA student presentations included:

Natasha Krell ’16Natasha Krell ’16Porcia Manandhar — Three-year Comparison of Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Survival Rates on Great Duck Island

Ian Medeiros — Research in Progress: Documenting the Serpentine Biota of Massachusetts

Bik Wheeler — Spruce Wood Warbler Use of Forest Structure: Revisiting MacArthur’s Study of Niche Partitioning

Bik Wheeler ’09 MPhil ’15Bik Wheeler ’09 MPhil ’15

The conference, which is organized by the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine attracts hundreds of researchers, field biologists, natural resource managers, faculty members and their students, and naturalists who come to share information on all aspects of the natural history sciences of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

Says Dr. Anderson, “What is really exciting about teaching at College of the Atlantic is that we get to live Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s statement all the time: ‘The best classrooms are without walls’. Lots of colleges these days will tell you they offer students the opportunity to ‘do research’, but all too often what this means is that students serve as unpaid lab-assistants to professors, following a pre-set protocol to a pre-ordained outcome. When I work with COA students I get to see them take an idea from the original hazy ‘why’ question, through a refined hypothesis, experimental design and execution, analysis, and presentation and write-up.  I am often at least as surprised at the outcome as they are.  Taking things the

Dr. John AndersonDr. John Anderson

whole way from initial thought to final conclusion is the essence of science, and COA students have shown time and again how well this format prepares them for future graduate and professional work.  I am deeply humbled by the privilege of working with students like Bik, Porcia, Natasha, and Ian.”

Dr. Anderson, who holds the William H. Drury, Jr. Chair in Ecology and Natural History, gave a presentation entitled “Changes in Herring and Great Black-backed Gull Nesting Distributions on Great Duck Island, Maine”.

Dr. Nishi RajakarunaDr. Nishi RajakarunaDr. Rajakaruna, a COA alumnus himself, gave a presentation entitled, “Serpentine Geoecology of Eastern North America: Current Knowledge and Information Gaps”.

About Eagle Hill Institute: Located in Steuben, Maine, the Eagle Hill Institute is a scientific and literary organization dedicated to contributing to a greater interest in scholarly and educational pursuits, especially in the natural history sciences. Eagle Hill publishes 3 peer-reviewed scientific journals: The Northeastern Naturalist, The Southeastern Naturalist and The Journal of the North Atlantic which is an archaeology and environmental history journal.