WASHINGTON, PA (March 10, 2014) – Childhood vacations to the Florida Keys were more than just fun on the beach for Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) senior Andrew McInnis.
They were learning experiences that fostered a life-long interest in coral reef preservation, and helped carve a career path he already has started to follow.
“When I was young my family would often go camping in the Florida Keys and that is where I first fell in love with coral reefs,” he said. “After doing a project on Acropora coral for my Invertebrate Zoology class with Dr. Jamie March, I decided to do my Environmental Studies Capstone on coral reef conservation and restoration.”
McInnis, a Biology and Environmental Studies double major from Sarasota, Florida, is one of 65 W&J students who completed Magellan Projects in 2013. Established in 2008, the Magellan Project provides scholarship funding for students to spend the summer pursuing independent projects and internships that extend liberal arts learning outside the classroom.
McInnis has completed two Magellan Projects. He completed the first in the summer of 2012, when he worked in the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador with a family of Indigenous Quechua. He studied medicinal plants, reforestation projects, and the development of ecotourism.
In the summer of 2013, McInnis took his work into the water, studying Marine Biology at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia. He also worked with a university professor to conduct mangrove community composition surveys in Northeast Australia, and received funding from Southern Cross Environmental Coalition to attend the 2013 Australian Coral Reef Society Conference in Sydney, Australia.
He also found time to integrate some fun – albeit educational fun – into his work. He backpacked along the east coast of Australia, went diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and toured the campus and labs of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia with friends in the university’s Marine Biology doctoral program.
In addition to the grant provided by the Magellan Project, McInnis worked with Dr. Robert East to apply for a grant from the Mazingira Environmental Fund, which he received.
Dr. Brianne Bilsky, Magellan Project Program Coordinator, said Magellan is about helping students see the world as their classroom and shaking them from the mindset that learning only happens when you’re surrounded by four walls and are sitting at a desk with a textbook. Bricks and mortar classrooms that are run by expert faculty are essential spaces for learning about a field, but students also need real world classrooms with walls of air where they can learn by doing, she said.
“For someone like Andrew, who has a passion for the environment, this means traveling to a place like Fiji, where unique conservation projects are happening,” she said. “You can study coral in a classroom or a lab, but to truly understand how it works and why it’s important to the environment, you need to put on your diving gear and encounter coral in its natural habitat.”
McInnis plans to join the Peace Corps following his graduation from W&J in May. He then plans to attend graduate school for Marine Biology, with a focus on coral ecology.
“My Magellan projects have definitely helped me decide what I want to do in my future by increasing my interest and experience with developing communities and ecosystem preservation,” he said.