By Austin Boland-Ferguson and Nicoletta Feldman
Science and photography may seem like two unlikely disciplines to come together, but the two will merge on a study abroad trip next spring.
The Peru excursion, which will take place in May 2019, will be led by Dr. Todd Weber, chair of the biology department and Jessi Oliano, a communications professor.
Weber said the idea for the trip came to him while he was vacationing in Peru with friends last summer, and was particularly influenced by their tour guide, who was a trained biologist.
“It happened that many of us on the trip were scientists, and so he was really effective at sharing with us a lot about the flora and the fauna and the different micro-climates that you experience,” Weber said.
The inspiration for the photography aspect stemmed from the tour guide as well, as Weber saw him taking pictures of wildlife along the way with a “really nice camera” that could not have been replicated using a standard camera or cell phone.
“I thought, to combine this potential career for science students or biology students with the experience of photography and seeing all this biodiversity made the perfect idea for a study abroad trip,” Weber said.
Oliano noted that Weber’s experience in science would be of importance on the trip to Peru, supplying expertise on the areas of nature that will be around those traveling to Peru.
“Having Dr. Weber on the trip is so important because he is a biologist,” Oliano said. “He will be able to help us understand the role biology plays in the culture and economy of Peru, as well as teach us the evolutionary history and biodiversity of Peru.”
The trip will encompass a little bit of history as well, and will begin in Cuzco, which is located in the heart of where the Incan civilization used to be.
“There’s a couple of different Inca sites that we’ll visit while we’re acclimating to the altitude before we try to hike the Inca trail,” Weber said. “Our hope is that we’re not just going to get biology students that want to go on the trip, but we might also get some students that are interested in the culture there, that might be particularly interested in the Inca aspect of the trip, or the history part of the trip.”
Oliano mapped out what parts of Peru travelers will visit when they make the trip. “We’ll visit numerous natural and cultural sites of the former Incan Empire, including hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, then descend to explore the Amazon rainforest and it’s amazing biodiversity,” she said.
Weber cited the biodiversity of Peru as one of the main reasons why the country is an ideal location for combining nature and photography.
“There’s three major climate areas in Peru: the coast, the mountains and the rainforest,” Weber said. “Particularly the rainforest, the biodiversity is just crazy there.”
Since Peru is a primarily Spanish-speaking country, one may think that the language barrier would cause troubles in communication however, according to Weber, that will not be the case.
“A lot of the people speak English because of the visitors they get,” Weber said. “It’s a very friendly country to go to.”
Because the trip combines photography and biology, two areas that normally don’t have much overlap, students will take a course prior to the trip to prepare them for the activities they will partake in once they arrive.
“My idea is that the students are going to take a course with us before they go,” Weber said. “Part of it will be learning how to take good photographs and how to edit them in software; part of it is also going to be about understanding biodiversity and nature and the process of evolution that’s led to all this diversity on the planet.”
Having been to Peru before, Weber says that he personally looks forward to seeing the Amazon rainforest, however, that won’t be the most important outcome of the trip for him.
“For me, it’s about sharing my passion for seeing this diversity, seeing organisms that you may not see anywhere else in the world or seeing organisms that may not be around later because of all the changes to the climate,” Weber said. “And just making that connection with students and helping them to see and really appreciate the beauty of that.”
Published on the 9/05/18 edition.