"I ran for the bucket, and when I got back the octopus had wriggled its tentacles around Nick's arm."










Read about other
Wabash immersion learning experiences of 2000-2001


Immersion learning experiences are coordinated through the College's Center for Academic Enrichment


Summer/Fall 2001

An Octopus in the Hand
Is Worth Two in the Bucket

It was a warm, starlit night in the ocean shallows near Jamaica's Hofstra University Marine Laboratory, and Nick Negovetich was scanning the ocean floor with a flashlight, looking for an octopus.

"If you spot one, grab it with your hands and yell for the bucket," the resident instructor of the lab had told the group of eight Wabash students visiting the station during their spring break. Under the supervision of biology professors Eric Wetzel and Shivi Selveratnum, the students were completing field research for their invertebrate and advanced ecology classes. Negovetich was about to learn a lesson he'll never forget.

"Nick and Mike Robinson spotted this octopus, and Nick pulled it up just like the instructor said and yelled for the bucket," Professor Wetzel recalls. "I ran for the bucket, and when I got back the octopus had wriggled its tentacles around Nick's arm."

"Hey, I think it bit me," the senior biology major said. Wetzel was nearly there with the bucket.

"Hey, I think it bit me again," Negovetich yelled, flinging his arm in the air and tossing the cephalopod back to the shallows.

The resident instructor slogged over and snared the escaped octopus with a net.
"Apparently the 'pick them up by hand' routine was for first-timers," Wetzel deduces.

Unharmed, undaunted, and wearing the marks of his attacker with pride, Negovetich grabbed his flashlight and went in search of another specimen of the spineless mollusk.

The night hunt was one of the highlights of the group's five-day stay at the marine lab, which included hiking over and snorkeling under of mangrove islands and dives to observe and gather a variety of invertebrate species Funded by the College's Treves Fund as part of the College's strategic plan initiative to offer as many students as possible immersion learning experiences, the expedition took the combined classes to an ideal location.

"There's so much bio-diversity there, especially among invertebrates, " Wetzel explains. "And there were many symbiotic relationships between the invertebrates my class was studying and the microbes Professor Selveratnum's class was studying."

"Seeing coral reefs in their natural settings told the students a lot about these organisms," adds Selveratnum. "This was a totally different experience than a class lecture could convey."

She recalls senior Nathan Langer peering into the water and rock surfaces, hunting for various species of algae.

"In this one place, my students saw what happens at each of these intertidal zones and how these factors impacted algal diversity."
The hands-on nature of the course "is the sort of experience that gets students excited about the work," Wetzel says. The experience sometimes molds a student's career choice, as the professor has seen from previous research trips he's taken with Wabash students to the Mississippi Gulf

Selveratnum noted an important aspect of the trip not related directly to the students' classwork.

"They saw how people in the Third World live, and some of my students called this the most important lesson for them," she says. "They never imagined that a country so close to the U.S. could be so poverty stricken, or how fortunate they were to be living here."

"This trip consisted mostly of upperclassmen," Wetzel explains. "The question now is: do you take younger students so that the trip inspires them for their career at Wabash, or do you use it as a sort of capstone experience for upper classman."

Selveratnum believes the scales tip in favor of underclassmen.

"With two classes on site, there were numerous opportunities for students from those different classes to learn from each other. This could widen and strengthen their interests in biology while they're at Wabash."

"Looking at those factors is part of what we've done since the trip," Wetzel concludes. "That's what we'll be exploring as we assess these sorts of learning experiences and make decisions for the future."

The Jamaica biology excursion was one of many off-campus immersion learning experiences coordinated through the College's Center for Academic Enrichment, a result of the College's strategic plan.

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