What did you do for summer break?
For Amanda and Mark Carner, their break included daily wake-up calls from Gibbons apes chanting "OO-AH," "OO-AH" as they swung from tree to tree past the couple's window at a wildlife compound.
The Carners, along with several other UNLV students, saw the summer break as an opportune time for academic research, community service, and a chance to step outside of an insular world.
Both undergraduate anthropology students, the Carners spent three weeks building a bridge across a swamp in Borneo, Indonesia. As they traipsed through the jungle, animal caregivers at the famed Orangutan Foundation International had trouble keeping up with the monkeys and apes they were studying.
Surrounded by a rainforest of primates, the Carners interacted with the land's indigenous people - The Dayaks - an opportunity Mark especially found enriching to his studies in cultural anthropology. The trip also provided a chance to observe renowned primatologist Birut? Galdikas, who told the two about the volunteer opportunity when she gave a talk at UNLV this past April. A well-known authority on orangutans, Galdikas has documented the behavior of the endangered species for more than 25 years.
"She is a fascinating person to talk to," Amanda Carner said. "She was more than willing to answer any of our questions, and she really cares about her work. Being able to do something like this is a dream come true."
After witnessing rainforest devastation and the destruction of the orangutans' sanctuary, Amanda Carner said she gained a new perspective on the environmental concerns she had long-studied in textbooks.
"Until you actually see the devastation of the rainforest that's being caused by palm oil plantations, it won't really hit home," Amanda Carner said. "There's a whole world out there for us to explore," she said, adding a piece of advice for students. "Anytime an opportunity like this arises, take advantage of it."
Backpacking More than a Vacation
Mark Salvaggio, an avid backpacker and Ph.D. student in sociology, traveled through Central America as part of his eco-tourism research. He spent 10 weeks in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama researching how backpackers contribute to the local economy and embrace the environment.
"Where tourism isn't so developed, backpackers are providing opportunities for tourism to locals," he said. "They provide economic opportunities for places outside the main tourist enclave."
Salvaggio's days were spent hiking trails, finding a hidden waterfall, and stopping to eat the traditional meal of gallo pinto - beans and rice. He also interviewed fellow backpackers and took meticulous notes (especially when he lost his digital voice recorder).
His research evolved into how the hostel - once just a place to sleep before embarking on the next adventure - has changed the backpacking experience. He found backpackers want to "go off the beaten path" by visiting unexplored nature sites or getting to know the locals who run small businesses. Now, backpackers find the hostels have already done the research for them and organize group trips to exotic locations and provide Internet and television access.
Salvaggio plans to present his research at an upcoming sociology conference and will continue the study after graduation and as a professor.
Salvaggio and the Carners weren't the only UNLV students redefining summer break:
- Dental school students paid their own way to Tonga to provide free dental care.
- Austin McDonald, a senior biology major, studied genes at Washington University in St. Louis, a premier biomedical research facility.
- Jessica Walters, a senior journalism major and outside hitter on the volleyball team, went to Ghana with the local Engineers Without Borders chapter to build a well and latrine for an orphanage. She held suffering children, dug trenches, danced with kindergarteners, and played African drums. She wrote about her experiences, posted videos of the orphans, and the progress of the project. View Walter's blog at http://theghanaexperience.wordpress.com.
- Kareema Mitchell Turner, a Boyd School of Law student, spent seven weeks in South Africa at a University of Witswatersrand program for human rights law. Her summer included a tour of a refugee camp, where guards mistook her for a refugee. View Turner's blog.
- Four Boyd School of Law students were among 43 students from 38 law schools who were accepted into the Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia 2009 summer legal internship program.