First of Its Kind Bear Study Brings Distinction to Unity College
The Unity College Bear Study, a “first of its kind” study in the US that directly involves undergraduates, is a perfect example of how Sustainability Science enriches the college experiences of students across the curriculum.
The study, involving undergraduates in the trapping and study of live bears in the wild, is a perfect example of how Sustainability Science enriches the college experiences of students across the curriculum – combining classroom learning with real field experience.
No matter what their major, Unity students develop a toolbox of skills that prove to be useful over a lifetime. While similar bear studies at the graduate level might focus research on a limited number of topics, thanks to Unity’s focus on Sustainability Science, students in many classes pursue different aspects of Unity College’s bear study.
As a result, students from a number of majors gain broad experience, learn to work collaboratively with researchers from many disciplines, and grow to grasp the “big picture” about what wildlife research is really all about. These tools developed during undergraduate studies at Unity College provide students with the comprehensive, broad-based skills to: (a) land their first job and seize leadership opportunities throughout their career; (b) flourish in graduate school; and/or (c) chase their entrepreneurial dreams to take advantage of the growing green job market.
Unity College students prepare for strong careers in service to the natural world by achieving real-world, hands-on results before they graduate. Unity College’s mission is “to educate protectors and stewards” of the planet.
No matter their major, students work alongside professionals from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW). That’s because Unity’s study contributes to a longstanding MDIFW bear study that blankets a sweep of Maine.
“They have been studying Maine black bears dating back to 1975,” explained Associate Professor George Matula, who oversees Unity’s study. “This study provides opportunities for students to get involved in real-life, large mammal research and management. That is unique for undergraduate students.”
During the late spring, bear study participants baited and trapped bears in the greater Unity, Maine region. They collared and tracked bears to find their home range, size, and whether they occasionally move far afield. Data gathered is compared to that collected through the MDIFW bear study.
Thanks to Unity’s Sustainability Science focus for teaching and learning, instead of one bear research team, there are many. Student teams have been created to work on specific aspects of the study, such as planning the study; designing databases and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis; producing a bear culvert trap; deploying hair snares; conducting DNA analysis of bear hairs; performing blood analyses; and pre-baiting for the trapping season. Some students apply their work on the study to multiple classes. Students do not just work with one professor, they work with many.
Unity students incorporate their GIS analysis from the bear study into an applied GIS course. Kathleen Dunckel, Course Instructor plus Dr. Cheryl Frederick, Assistant Professor of Captive Wildlife Care and Education, guide students via a thorough analysis of the video footage and scats. Dr. Brent Bibles, Associate Professor of Wildlife Biology, involves students in designing the hair snare protocols and setting them out. Some learn lessons in mass communications by developing outreaches to area landowners and a web site.
Sustainability Science helps students to bridge the gap between theory and practice. It also inspires them to be adventurous, take risks, think broadly, and develop confidence through the completion of real-world projects. Students quickly learn that when a live bear is snared and the time has come to gather biological samples, the techniques learned in the classroom suddenly become very real.