Twelve students and two professors will spend three weeks in a remote Ugandan jungle as part of an interdisciplinary extended study course that emphasizes hands-on learning and research involving rare mountain gorillas.
The group, led by geography professor Peter Scull and biology professor Frank Frey, will be working with community leaders in the village of Buhoma and park officials at the adjacent Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest.
The village is a jumping off point for eco-tourism trips into the national park, where tourists can view mountain gorillas that are habituated, or accustomed to human contact.
There is growing concern that the gorillas are becoming more susceptible to disease as contact with humans grows. The Colgate team will help those in Uganda to determine if this is the case and, if so, how diseases are being transmitted.
There are only about 700 mountain gorillas in the world, and half those live in the Ugandan park.
The students also will be working with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority on wildlife management issues, as well as with Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a nonprofit organization addressing community health concerns.
“I think this extended study is unique not only because of where we’re going, but also because the students will be doing tremendously interesting research with people on the ground, those doing the actual work in the field,” said Scull.
Frey also pointed out that the students won’t be in the typical classroom or dorm settings.
They will be living with no running water or electricity in tents, eating what the villagers eat, and working in a CTPH field clinic that has lab equipment powered by solar panels and diesel generators.
In preparation for the trip, Frey and Scull spent three weeks in southwestern Uganda in May 2007 to address logistical and security issues. Frey then went back this past spring break with two seniors, Lauren Mangione and Gemina Garland-Lewis.
In addition to field work, the extended study group will spend three days in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Doneisha Snider ’10 is excited for this “amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
With a concentration in geography and a possible double major in sociology and anthropology, she is particularly interested in the community-based research of the village health issues.
Snider said the research techniques and experience will help her after graduation, when she hopes to be involved in disease prevention programs in marginalized U.S. communities.
Colgate’s connection to Uganda was initiated by geography professor Ellen Kraly, who met CTPH founder Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka in 2003. The relationship has grown and the concept of an extended study course took root. A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation enabled the Environmental Studies Program to develop and pilot the course.
Colgate students also are working on campus to provide administrative support for CTPH’s communications program in the United States.
The research that Frey and Scull are conducting is funded by the university’ s Harvey Picker ’36 Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Sciences and Mathematics. While still in its early stages, they are excited about their work’s potential and about the unique experience the students will get.
“They will be learning by doing,” said Frey. “It’s all about doing the science and working with our collaborators.”