(Concordia University, Portland website screenshot)
GET YOUR PASSPORT, IT’S TIME FOR BIOLOGY CLASS!
Snorkeling in the Caribbean, witnessing the majesty of the Himalayas, riding on the backs of elephants – these are activities that Professor of Biology and Math & Science Department Chair, Sergei Polozov, believes will transform students into service leaders. And with more than 20 years leading Concordia students in field work around the globe, Polozov has ample evidence that it does.
"It's about breaking stereotypes and expanding horizons – many students are first time travelers with first time passports," says Polozov. "You can listen to a lecture in class, but when you see real tropical forest, real barrier reef, or poverty in Belize or Guatemala, it changes how you view the world and your place in it."
The right place at the right time
Concordia's field biology trips were initiated by retired professor of biology and emeritus dean Dr. Charles Kunert. Since 1995, Kunert and Polozov have collaborated with Concordia University Texas professor emeritus, Dr. Larry Meissner, to offer the trips to students, alumni, family, and friends from both campuses.
Although Polozov knows all students can benefit from firsthand field experience, he realizes some of them may not be ready for full immersion in exotic cultures and locales. "Not all students are equipped to experience a big international trip and be exposed to international culture," he says. For that reason, he and his colleagues offer trips of varying lengths, to locations both far and near.
Students can spend a few hours collecting data around Portland or travel to the Oregon coast for a day. In March, they might venture to Belize and Guatemala; in May – to explore Hawaii, the Grand Canyon or Pacific Northwest; in the fall, they can use the time around Thanksgiving break to travel to Nepal. And in the summer, students have the opportunity to direct longer, research-based trips in places as far afield as Iceland, Australia or New Zealand.
"I believe travel is the best investment in education," says Polozov. "International exposure and research are important resume builders. Not only in academics – they're also something future employers pay attention to. "Many students continue to travel after graduation and some pursue careers in third world countries," continues Polozov. "The trips don't just benefit science students, but also business majors, social work students, and especially education majors – exposure to different customs and cultures gives them the authority to teach from their own experience."
"Our field education trips are absolutely life-changing and transformative. Every year we witness character changes – students show up reserved and self-contained. But in ten days they go from scared of everything to becoming the heart of group. That's how you create leaders – not from a title but from transformation of character. "Environmental injustice requires all the energy and power of spirit that young people can offer," continues Polozov. "Our goal is to show students that they are desperately needed around the world."