New study abroad program draws ASU undergrads to Panama

July 29, 2014

Through study abroad programs, students experience new cultures, languages and people as they complete their coursework. But during Arizona State University’s new faculty-led Tropical Field Biology class, students also encounter three-toed sloths, poison dart frogs, monkeys, lizards and giant insects.

Eighteen School of Life Sciences undergraduate students traveled to Panama this summer to study biology, and to become fully immersed in a challenging field environment. Students stayed at a schoolhouse in Gamboa operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – a facility that is part of an innovative education and science partnership between ASU and the Smithsonian Institute aimed at sustaining biodiversity on Earth. students find a frog while on a nighttime excursion Download Full Image

“We started this summer program with two main goals,” said Nico Franz, associate professor with the School of Life Sciences. “First, we wanted the students to experience the incredible biodiversity and wealth of biological interactions that occur in a tropical rainforest habitat. Second, the students took their first steps toward becoming researchers. They posed scientific questions, developed hypotheses and conducted studies to investigate their hypotheses. Their final report was presented in the style of an authentic scientific publication.”

Classwork was anything but typical. Students explored the rainforest, discovering tropical plants, vertebrate animals and insects during daily hikes. The group had many encounters with a variety of animals, including stingless bees, tree frogs, leaf-cutter ants, venomous snakes, toucans, iguanas, tarantulas and three-toed sloths, to name a few.

Along with Franz, Dale DeNardo, a reptile expert and associate professor with the school, and life sciences teaching assistants Meghan Duell and Salvatore Anzaldo also led the students on nighttime excursions along riverbeds.

“In the evenings, we set up a mercury vapor lamp and UV lights to attract and see insects,” said DeNardo. “Particularly along the riverbanks, we had many opportunities to see a wide variety of amphibians and reptiles. Since we overlapped with the peak of the rainy season, animal species were out in great numbers. I’m sure this experience will be a highlight of our students’ undergraduate careers.”

Callie Hartson, an animal physiology and behavior major entering her junior year at ASU, said she was thrilled to be part of the study program.

“I've always wanted to explore a rainforest. When I found the course, I couldn't resist! It was the ultimate hands-on experience,” said Hartson, a Peoria, Arizona, native. “The knowledge was the most rewarding part of the whole experience. Even after living in Panama for three weeks, I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. There was so much to learn!”

Course topics varied from ecology, biodiversity, evolution and behavior to conservation, adaptation and human interactions with wildlife. Some of the highlights included climbing a 95-foot canopy tower to get a different perspective on the forest, an excursion to the Cerro Azul mountain region northeast of Panama City and a two-day trip to Barro Colorado Island – one of the most influential sites for New World tropical research worldwide.

The School of Life Sciences Tropical Field Biology class will be offered again in 2015.

The School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Morris named director of ASU's American Indian Policy Institute

July 29, 2014

Traci Morris, a nationally recognized tribal communications leader and expert, has been named director of the American Indian Policy Institute (AIPI) at Arizona State University.

Morris’ expertise includes working on the national, regional and local level with Native nations, the federal government and tribal businesses/entities. She is an expert on tribal broadband who has taught college courses, authored books and articles, presented numerous professional papers, written curriculum on Native American new media and advocated for digital inclusion at the Federal Communications Commission and on Capitol Hill. portrait of Traci Morris Download Full Image

“I am very excited about the appointment of Dr. Morris as the new director of AIPI. Her extensive experience in addressing American Indian economic initiatives, in tandem with her national, regional and local involvement with tribal governments and organizations, will well serve the institute in carrying out its mission and goals,” said Eddie F. Brown, the executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute and American Indian Studies professor.

The American Indian Policy Institute at ASU is committed to tribally-driven participatory projects where tribal governments identify their research needs and collaborate with the university. The institute responds to tribal direction and empowers tribes, tribal communities and American Indian students through projects that support self-determination and build tribal capacity. The institute transforms American Indian policy analysis through a transdisciplinary approach that includes departments and centers within the university, as well as organizations in communities.

Members of the ASU academic community offered their thoughts on Morris’ appointment to the institute:

• “Dr. Morris brings a wealth of meaningful experiences and knowledge to the position of director, American Indian Policy Institute. We in American Indian Studies look forward to working on collaborative research, policy and service projects with Dr. Morris and her staff that benefit our Native communities.” – John Tippeconnic, ASU American Indian Studies director and professor

• “This is an exciting time for all American Indian programs at ASU. The AIPI is uniquely situated to respond to the needs of tribal governments and communities while also fulfilling the mission and goals of our great university. The addition of Dr. Morris to lead the AIPI will further strengthen and enhance the great work that has already been started by this relatively young program. Her knowledge of both academia and tribal communities, as well as her proven research and leadership skills, will undoubtedly usher in a strong new era for AIPI.” – Ann Marie Downes, ASU Indian Legal Program executive director

• “Dr. Morris has policy experience and expertise on cutting-edge issues to continue and enrich the contributions of the institute and ASU in Arizona and nationally. The School of Public Affairs looks forward to close collaboration with her and the AIPI on issues of policy and indigenous self-governance.” – Karen Mossberger, ASU School of Public Affairs director and professor

• “I am excited about the contributions that I know Traci will bring to ASU AIPI. I have had the pleasure of working with this amazing policy wonk and know of her contributions to Indian Country and, more specifically, to telecom and media. Congratulations Traci and ASU!" – Anthony Newkirk, Arizona tribal community member and the Chairman of Gila River Telecommunications Incorporated at the Gila River Tribe

Morris is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, and she maintains a strong working relationship with her community while her passion for communications and media policy and advocacy emerged from these tribal roots. Morris’ research and publications on Native American media and the digital divide focus on Internet use, network neutrality, digital and new media curriculums, digital inclusion and development of broadband networks in Indian Country. Her book, “Native American Voices: A Reader,” is a teaching tool utilized in colleges throughout the country.

“We are pleased to learn of Dr. Traci Morris’ appointment to the American Indian Policy Institute directorship. Traci is well-qualified to serve in that capacity, as proven by her exceptional career. We expect Traci to use her experience to positively engage the American Indian Policy Institute with Indian Country to build its capacity and further the efforts of tribal self-determination,” said Governor Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation.

Morris is also the founder of Homahota Consulting LLC, a national, Native American woman-owned professional services firm that specializes in policy analysis, telecommunications, education and research that assists tribes with nation building, and works with Native Nations, tribal businesses and companies working with tribes.

Morris earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona, and her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University.