CLAS Acts April 2017

Dean providing a faculty member with an award at Sabbatical Showcase


Frederick J. Antczak

Chaucer did tell us at the beginning of the Canterbury Tales that in April, folks hanker to go on pilgrimages, and it seems he is not wrong.  Fulbrights are in the future of several faculty members and Tim Evans has dubbed himself a Space Cadet who will be undergoing weeks of a closed habitat, analog mission for NASA this summer.

The month of April will see me wearing out some shoe leather walking briskly between more than 40 end-of-year events, not the least of which is our CLAS Sabbatical Showcase and Spring Celebration on April 6.  This wonderful college event is our chance to marvel at the interesting work of our colleagues, reacquaint ourselves with friends in other departments, and hear about the significant work of our governance committees. 

As we grow, we have the enviable issue of accommodating all the family members who want to attend commencement.  As you probably know, CLAS now participates in both morning and afternoon ceremonies, loosely defined as sciences in the morning, others nearer the cocktail hour.  Feel free to go to the one most appropriate for you, but by all means go and honor our graduates.  College Marshals selected for the April 29 ceremonial duties are Amorak Huey, Andrew Lantz, Mayra Fortes, and Melissa Tallman.

We have plenty to keep us busy at this time of year so I’ll keep it short.  Even as we make the last great push to bring another semester to a successful close, do take a moment to appreciate your hand in all the success around you, as you see the seniors at departmental events, award ceremonies, and brandishing acceptance letters for graduate school, jobs, and all manner of post-graduation adventures sure to see them creating tales of their own. 

Who is Enriching Whom?  Stimulating Minds with Ott Steiner Scholar Francesca Golus and Professor Jodee Hunt

Long before the beautifully formatted posters go up on easels for Students Scholars Day each April, students must plot a long course from germinal dream to hard won reality.

For rising senior Francesca Golus, the seeds were planted almost from the beginning of her time at GVSU.  She knew she wanted to do something in the area of zoo animal welfare and she intuited that students need to take advising seriously.  As a freshman she crossed Biology Professor Jodee Hunt’s office threshold and a productive mentorship began.  Over the years since that meeting, Francesca points out that she has increased the amount of advising she seeks.  

“Professor Hunt has helped in many ways such as letters of reference and now this research project,” Francesca explains.  “She helped me see that I could go beyond my initial dream to be a zookeeper to do actual research in a zoo setting on the behavior of the animals.” 

Francesca is primed to go about as far as her can push her dream.  In summer 2016, she was a full-time Life Science Intern at the Detroit Zoo in the mammal department, and her Biology major and Non-Profit Administration minor will be assets for many zoo roles.

“She’ll be a Zoo Director one day,” Jodee Hunt predicts with great pride.

The next step in her journey began in fall 2016.  Her internship in Detroit had led to an interest enrichment activities for zoo animal.  She had seen several ways the zookeepers there stimulated the animals’ minds, such as a meat-filled, buffalo-shaped piñata that was clearly a hit with the wolves.

“I wanted to study the effects of these enrichment activities, to investigate what keep animals in the zoo from getting stressed and bored.  What gets their brains to work,” Francesca says.  “I started my research to look at the ways this has been done and searched the literature explaining the need for enrichment.”

A lead consultant in the research area of the library’s Knowledge Market, Francesca was in a great position to find the 30 articles on enrichment that now make up her literature review.  “I was in my comfort zone and looked at tons of sources,” she laughs.

“Then the emailing really picked up,” Jodee volunteered.  They agree that over the holiday break they “met” by email up to four times a week and also in person once a week as intensive discussions and drafting and polishing took place for their Student Summer Scholars Program Application, “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!  Assessing Enrichment Protocols for Carnivores at the John Ball Zoo.”

Applications were due January 27, 2017 and then the pair waited to see if the project would be funded for this summer research work.  Notification comes to students and mentors just after Spring Break that their decision letters may be picked up in the OURS office.

“I got the email while I was at work in the library,” Francesca recalls.  “The OURS office is also in the library, but I was the only person at the desk and couldn’t yet run up there.  I started to see students coming down the stairs with envelopes looking elated or in some cases quickly stuffing the envelope into their back packs.  Finally, my scheduled replacement arrived so I ran up and got my envelope.”

Jodee was off campus that day and hoping that Francesca would be able to relay the news.

“I held the envelope in my hand for about 30 seconds before telling myself to open it.” 

Not only was the project accepted, Francesca was selected to receive the prestigious Ott Steiner grant.

They had confidence in the project and had been working on some logistics with a former GVSU biology masters student, Bill Flanagan, who works at the John Ball Zoo.  The preparations included working up what is known as an ethogram, a catalog of discrete animal behaviors that can be measured.  Study development prior to any data collection also included Francesca’s literature review and some beta-testing of how their data sheet would be used—a sort of calibration of the data collectors themselves to ensure they use the same understanding of the defined animal behaviors. 

“Interobserver bias testing ensures that Francesca and another student interested in the project, Taylor Orr--and maybe even me-- will observe consistently,” Jodee notes.

Importantly, because they would be studying vertebrate animals, they also needed to seek approval of their plans from IACUC, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, prior to any data collection.

Jodee is a strong proponent of the Student Summer Scholars (S3) program.  “What special about S3 is that the grant proposal addresses the scholarly work in a way that is very student-centered.  Quality matters and so does how student-centered the proposal is.  The proposal readers consider if the student generated the questions, whether it is close to the student’s learning objectives, how it enhances the student’s background, works with their learning style, and contributes to their development and career objectives.  Outcomes of the research are great, but the nurturing of the development of the student is really key.”

Jodee is enjoying having Francesca as an “almost co-PI” in their apprenticeship-like model.  “I think of it as fledging independence,” Jodee explains.

In research intensive settings where a rapid stream of publications is required, the apprenticeship model can give way to an almost industrial model, the pair feel.  “But the S3 model has intensive mentorship,” Jodee says in contrast.  “With S3, we are also introducing students to it earlier, as undergraduates.”

This summer will include some long days of observation to capture the moment that their felids, canids and ursids leave their “bedrooms” and enter their daytime enclosures.  It has been noted that large mammals tend to be active upon entering this interesting area and display normal and engaged behaviors.  They also want to observe the animals at the other extreme of their day, in that “hangry” hour before they are fed in their indoor enclosure and may be feeling some anxiety or excitement about the upcoming meal.  This period is known to see some behaviors such as rapid pacing or banging on the door or vocalizations.

“In between can be a period of boredom or anxiety with associated behaviors such as endless pacing, licking excessively, pulling hair out, or lethargic lying about,” Jodee describes.

Francesca explains that they will see how enrichment can affect their behavior.  “Two times a day, in late morning and mid-afternoon, I’ll observe the enrichment activity and some days without any as the experimental control.  There are three categories of enrichment types that the zoo has: sensory (smells and visuals and sounds), food, and manipulable items (such as puzzles and toys).  A few have some food inside and are a hybrid of food and manipulable.”

Francesca will take these observations five days a week all summer, and will enter data as she goes so that they can eventually produce graphs and run standard statistical procedures as part of their analysis.  The African lions, Amur tigers, Grizzly bears, bobcats, and mountain lions (representing the old world and the new) are in for a summer of well-planned and interesting diversions and Francesca and Taylor will brave everything short of electrical storms to collect data on what ensues.

The team very much hopes to make an early September presentation in Indianapolis to the Association of Zoos and Aquaria Conference, to participate in the fall 2017 Van Andel research conference and to proudly present at Student Scholars Day in April 2018.  Taylor and Francesca will present on different aspects of the data.

Jodee is also hoping to present to zoos about the valuable university collaborations that can be designed.  Biologists clearly connect with a broad community with both human and animal members.