Magellan Project leads Dawlton Nelson ’21 to studying environmental impacts on life in Kenya

Created: July 29, 2019  |  Last Updated: December 13, 2019  |  Category:   |  Tagged: ,

WASHINGTON, PA (July 29, 2019)—Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) junior Dawlton Nelson ’21 plans to visit every continent (minus Antarctica) before graduation.

Thanks to the Magellan Project, he’s one step closer to achieving that goal.

The W&J environmental studies major has already been to Asia, Europe, and North America, and this summer he traveled to Rusinga Island in Kenya to teach at the elementary school and study how children in Kenya learn about and interact with their natural environment.

“A specific image may come to mind when we talk about ‘the environment,’ but it’s everywhere,” Dawlton said. “The world is the environment and the environment is the world. I think it’s important for someone who is a biologist or ecologist to experience different parts of the world.”

With the recommendation of W&J’s Chair of Environmental Studies Robert East, Ph.D., who spent time volunteering with the Peace Corps in Rusinga Island, Dawlton selected the small community for his research, which is supported by the Magellan Project. He learned how integral agricultural classes are to the children’s education, and saw how they revere the natural resources around them.

Through the experience, Dawlton became very close with his host family, referring to his host as his “African mother.” He met other travelers staying in the village from several countries, including a small group of Argentinian people who he hopes to travel with in the future.

Last year, Dawlton traveled to Cambodia through his first Magellan Project. He also started working on a three-year summer project with the U.S. Forest Service in the Allegheny National Forest studying the invasive emerald ash borer, thanks to connections through W&J Associate Professor of Biology Jason Kilgore, Ph.D.

Support from W&J has made all of these experiences possible.

“Traveling isn’t very affordable. The support we have through W&J to be able to travel is unique. That’s specific to W&J,” Dawlton said. “Through my two Magellan projects, I specifically tried to get developing countries because not many people go there to experience the culture. I enjoy being put out of my comfort zone.”

Dawlton is applying to serve in the Peace Corps for two years following graduation, and hopes to explore opportunities in the conservation field.

Learn more about Dawlton’s experience through his Magellan Project blog.  

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.