Erin Emmons - 2013 Program Participant

Atherton Tablelands region in Australia

Looking out over the Atherton Tablelands region on a tour of the surrounding areas near SFS

What prompted you to choose the School for Field Studies’ Rainforest program in Australia?

As a biology major, I was looking to participate in a study abroad program that would give me a hands-on field experience to study ecology and environmental studies. When I heard about the School for Field Studies, I knew I had found the type of program that would allow me the immersive living-and-learning experience that I was looking for. I was drawn to the Australian rainforest specifically after reading about the incredible biodiversity of the region.

Did you go to Queensland, Australia knowing you wanted to study the habitat of Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo? How did this research idea come about?

No, I never heard of the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo before arriving at the Centre! How the directed research projects work is that each of the professors at the Centre has overall themes for projects that they direct, based on the five year research plan of the site. Then, students get matched with a professor and develop a specific project within the overarching theme. My research advisor, Dr. Sigrid Heise-Pavlov, was looking for students to work with her on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) projects focused on the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, so that’s how the project began.

You collaborated with Wes Hauser from Wabash College on a research project to study the habitat of the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, which aided the Center for Rainforest Studies by providing greater insight into tree-kangaroos. What was the most surprising discovery from your research?

Not too give too much away about our results, but many of the links we found between tree-kangaroo distribution patterns and the existence of specific habitat features made sense when placed in the larger picture of what we know about the species. Possibly the most surprising, and what I think the most exciting, part of the results was finding areas that corresponded to these habitat preferences, and being able to see these on a map.

Zillie falls in Australia

Zillie falls, a glimpse into the stunning natural beauty of the Australian rainforest

What was the most unique thing you did as a part of your research?

One of really neat things about our research project is its relevance to larger conservation issues, and its goal of working towards more awareness and better conservation measures for the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo. I really enjoyed having the chance to present our work at a local community night, where people from the nearby towns came out to hear some of the School for Field Studies student presentations. Hearing from people who were highly invested in the species and in conservation was a powerful reminder that the work we had done really mattered in the bigger picture.

What’s one thing about Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo you would like everyone to know?

For anyone who has never heard of the species (much like me before studying abroad), Google it, because you need to see a visual! It’s not hard to see why they’re such a likeable species!

Your research won The School for Field Studies Distinguished Student Researcher Award and the Forum on Education Abroad’s Undergraduate Research Award. What was it like to present your research in front of almost 1,500 international educators at the Forum Conference?

It was an incredibly exciting opportunity! In the end, our research is spreading awareness of the Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo, but I never thought we’d have the chance to do so in the U.S. on such a large scale! It was also great to present to such an interested audience, which was a roomful of people who are extremely passionate about study abroad.

What is your most memorable moment from your time studying abroad in Australia?

It’s so hard to pick just one, but what I will remember most is just the awe-inspiring beauty and serenity of the rainforest where we lived. Every day was a new chance to explore this incredible setting, and notice something you hadn’t before.

What was the most challenging part of studying abroad?

Much of my abroad experience was defined by pushing myself out of my comfort zone. From learning GIS, a computer program which neither Wes or I had previous experience with, to disconnecting from a fast-paced and technology-based routine which I had become accustomed to in the U.S. I was constantly being challenged to try new things and live differently from what I was used to.

Though challenging in the moment, I think this being pushed out of your comfort zone is one of the most valuable parts of study abroad.

An Australian tree frog

The Australian tree frog, photographed on site at SFS

What advice would you give to other College of the Holy Cross students as to why they should study abroad, and what it can do for them?

Study abroad truly is a transformative experience. It makes you leave your comfort zone, which provides opportunities for tremendous personal growth and learning from your new surroundings. It opens the doors to new perspectives, and really cool people, both classmates and people local to your new home. Most of all, study abroad is about having an adventure, and not only seeing, but living in a different part of the world. What could be more fun?

How has your study abroad experience impacted your life, both personally and professionally?

I grew so much from my study abroad experience. It made me more open to new experiences and ideas, but also more independent and comfortable with myself and my capabilities. The research I took part in reinforced a desire to continue doing scientific research, as I continue to discern how to translate this into my future career.

What are your plans for the future?

Initially after graduation, I will be working as a research technician in a biomedical research laboratory, after which I hope to pursue graduate school.