The Emerging Issues in Conservation course—Ecology and Environmental Sciences (EES) 590—ran as a one-week intensive from January 11-18 2016. The goal of the class was to give students the opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge research relevant to the field of conservation and to provide them with background knowledge on topics they might encounter throughout their careers. The course instructors were Mitchell Center Fellows Aram Calhoun, UMaine professor of wetland ecology, and Malcolm Hunter, UMaine professor of wildlife ecology.
Eight experts from across the United States joined the class both in person and remotely to discuss topics ranging from contemporary evolution to conservation psychology. Designed with an interactive format, the students listened to one-hour seminars on a topic before breaking down into small groups for discussion of relevant questions. At the end of each session the entire class reconvened for a question and answer session with the guest lecturer to clarify issues and discuss potential implications and solutions.
The course not only allowed the opportunity to learn about conservation-relevant topics but also provided students with a chance to develop skills that will serve them throughout their various career paths.
On the first day, Bridie McGreavy, UMaine assistant professor of communication, led the class through a facilitation workshop to highlight the importance of being an effective facilitator not only in small groups but also in large meetings. Each student drew upon topics discussed in the workshop as they took turns facilitating small group discussions and plenary question and answer sessions. Additionally, students took turns preparing and delivering introductions for each of the guest speakers that helped to develop their communication skills.
As the week came to a close, the work was not quite finished. The students were split into eight different teams tasked with summarizing one of the topics into a four-minute presentation that would be part of a seminar at the Mitchell Center given on January 25, 2016 titled “From Anthropogenic Ecosystems to Zoonoses: Emerging Issues in Conservation.” The topics included synthetic biology, conservation psychology, conservation-reliant species, zoonoses (diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals), contemporary evolution, novel ecosystems, ecosystem resilience, and dynamic systems approaches to conservation. The students quickly discovered how difficult a task it is to condense a one-hour lecture into a four-minute speed talk, but the seminar proved to be a success as all students excelled at communicating their topics to a diverse audience.
— Elisabeth Maxwell, second year master’s student in the School of Marine Sciences and participating student in the Emerging Issues in Conservation course.