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SMC seniors conduct summer biology research on island

Bridget Feeney | Friday, August 26, 2011

Saint Mary’s seniors Alicia Carroll, Audrey Dalrymple, Susan Herman and Krystal Holtcamp spent their summer swimming in the Caribbean Sea – for academic credit.

The four biology majors worked 20 hours a week and conducted research as part of a nine-week program on Little Corn Island, located just off the coast of Nicaragua.

“This taught us how to live minimally and not take things for granted. We all can’t speak highly enough of the program,” Dalrymple said. “It really opens your eyes up to other fields of biology. We learned things you’ll never be able to learn in a classroom. The hardest part of the summer was coming home, leaving the island.”

Herman said she and Dalrymple earned their SCUBA certifications this summer in order to investigate the oceanic wildlife around the island.

“I had never been diving before this trip,” Herman said. “Now I consider it a passion of mine.”

While their friends dove in the Caribbean waters, Carroll and Holtcamp spent their days on land studying the effects of bacterial contamination in the homes and wells on the island.

“I had to speak Spanish to the residents when I was in their homes collecting water samples, which was a bit of a challenge but they were really willing to help and laugh along with me when I messed translations up,” Holtcamp said.

As part of the program, they also worked in a local dive shop and hotel. Carroll said the people on the island made them feel like a part of the Little Corn community.

“The locals made us feel like family upon arrival, and our relationships continued to grow throughout the summer,” Carroll said. “In addition to the locals, we also made friendships with a lot of the travelers coming and going. Hearing all of the travelers’ stories was fascinating and inspiring. It’s amazing how strong of a bond you can create with people over such a short period.”

Holtcamp felt the same familial atmosphere Carroll did.

“I never was homesick,” Holtcamp said. “I had a family on the island.”

The girls did need to adapt to an entirely different way of life, Holcamp said. They lived without air conditioning or hot water on the island, and tarantulas, termites and cockroaches were regular fixtures in their bedrooms and labs.

“Problems arise when using research materials in a third world country,” Holtcamp said. “They can go bad and sometimes, you don’t get your problems solved right away, or at all. You have to learn how to adjust.”

Upon completion of the research projects, the four seniors fulfilled their Senior Comprehensive requirements to conduct outside research. The entire cost of the program is funded through a private donor. Interested Biology majors can inquire about the Little Corn Island program through the department.