BY DR. PETER ESSELMAN
US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY and BFREE BOARD MEMBER
The BFREE Education Committee was convened in late 2014 to help BFREE deliver the highest quality field courses possible. The committee is chaired by board member Dr. Peter Esselman (US Geological Survey), and composed of professors with long running study abroad programs at BFREE, including Dr. Sara Ash (University of the Cumberlands), Dr. Stewart Skeate (Lees-McRae College), Dr. Maarten Vonhof (Western Michigan University), Dr. James Rotenberg (University of North Carolina Wilmington and BFREE Board Member), and Mr. Mark Lucey (Vermont Commons School).
Over the past year, the committee met monthly and developed a model for curricula that would simultaneously provide valuable field-experiences to students and high-quality data to BFREE’s science and conservation programs. Two curricula have been developed and piloted so far, focuses on comparing small mammal communities and tree flowering and fruiting patterns between cacao and broadleaf forest habitats (developed by Dr. Ash and Skeate respectively). Additional curricula are in development including: a study of bird communities in edge, cacao, and forest habitats; invasive tilapia abundance and effects on native fauna; and stream macro invertebrate community composition and structure. Once piloted, each will be available for implementation by any of the many student groups that come through.
Through the commitment of the Education Committee members, BFREE is not only enhancing its educational offerings, but also contributing to scientific understanding of the Maya Mountains of southern Belize.