University of Florida (SPICE) - South Africa

SPICE Fellows and South African collaborators take a blood sample from a 4-meter long Nile crocodile they captured in iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Location: South Africa -- Cities of Pietermaritzburg, St. Lucia, and Durban

Description of Partners and Discipline/Research Focus:

U.S. Partners included the University of Florida’s (UF) International Center, the Center for Precollegiate Education and Training, and the I-cubed program. In South Africa, the principal partners were the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and the Natal Sharks Board. The research theme was ecosystem health. Projects initiated by GK-12 Fellows included: ant responses to habitat fragmentation, feral cat ecology, effects of environmental contaminants on Nile crocodiles, parasite loads of urban monkeys, thyroid function of sharks, and nutritional ecology of birds.


Outcomes and benefits:

Two GK-12 Fellows and two UKZN colleagues have co-authored a manuscript based on their avian nutrition project; it will be submitted shortly. Another GK-12 Fellow reflects that his work with the Natal Sharks Board “allowed me to meet with and learn from a preeminent scientist in the field of ichthyology … who [taught] me techniques for identifying and counting incremental growth bands in X-rays. Upon returning to the UF, I was able to apply these new skills to identify growth bands in my fossil shark specimens for the last chapter of my dissertation.” Another Fellow used his field experience with South African ants to gain acceptance into a project on ants in Borneo. Another Fellow is incorporating into her dissertation data from a survey she conducted on feral cats around Durban. One Fellow learned about regulations on collection of wild fish, which she will incorporate into a dissertation chapter focused on aquaculture from a global perspective.
Additionally, four middle school science teachers joined the GK-12 Fellows during the last week of the program to visit local schools, where they shared hands-on, inquiry-based lessons they had previously developed and tested in middle schools in Gainesville, FL. Upon their return to the U.S, GK-12 Fellows and teachers organized a supply drive in Gainesville middle schools and sent a crate of supplies to a particularly disadvantaged South African school, along with personal notes from U.S. middle school students to their South African peers.


Challenges:

One of the first learning outcomes for Fellows was the difficulty of developing a relationship with researchers solely by email. Once students arrived in-country and were able to meet with South African researchers, their projects quickly came together. Still, because of the wide array of possibilities, some students had to adjust their research efforts along the way. Finally, the many different projects and sites (a deliberate design plan) meant that vans of students went in many directions daily.


Any future activities if applicable:

After building partnerships with South African researchers through this International Supplement, we have crafted an NSF International Research Experiences (IRES) proposal to continue collaborative research with UKZN colleagues at the iSimangaliso World Heritage wetland park. The project centers on graduate student training. Also, as a result of participation by the Director of the UF AGEP program, we are using the graduate training model we developed for the GK-12 supplement to implement a new series of overseas study opportunities for STEM graduate students from under-represented populations. Finally, a Fellow and a GK-12 faculty participant have written and submitted a proposal to the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to establish field courses and an international exchange program between UF and University of Nairobi. All of these projects stem directly from the GK-12 supplement and share the same goal: to provide international experiences for students entering the global workforce.


Profile Date:September 2010