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A tropical expedition

Feb. 16, 2005

By Kelly Durso

Photos courtesy of Glenn MatlackWhen most students arrive at Ohio University, they want to check out the study abroad office. A chance to study in another country is always appealing, but for some students there is just not enough time. To solve this problem, the university offers students the chance to travel the world during winter intersession.

Thailand is a picturesque country with pristine beaches and rugged forests. The perfect place to go if you want to study tropical ecology. For Assistant Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Glenn Matlack and 13 students it was a great place to do some field studies as well as experience a new culture.

"We like to have a field component in an ecology course," Matlack says. "It's much better to get out and look at it instead of just talking about it in lab."

The group, along with a guide, two assistant guides, six porters and guards from the Royal Park Service, ventured into the wilderness of Thailand to record various data from plants and trees. They visited the island of Ko-Chang as well as hiked in the backyard of the Himalayas in the center of Thailand.

Photos courtesy of Glenn MatlackEach day the group would set out on a new path and the students would collect data at each site, measuring everything from tree density to regeneration. Using the principal component analysis, which is a multivariate, they would spend the afternoon calculating their analysis.

"The whole class sat down together and did some number crunching," Matlack says. "Looking at the computer was the reward after doing an hour and a half of number crunching."

But it was not all work and no play. The group was able to enjoy the beaches of Thailand and take in local culture. They witnessed everything from a funeral procession to young monks shopping in the marketplace. One thing they never expected, however, was a wild elephant sighting.

"One night during twilight the group came upon a small family grazing," Matlack says. "The male sort of stood there and roared and flapped his ears at us. The female and little ones ran off into the bush. They weren't really crazy about us"

Photos courtesy of Glenn MatlackMatlack has only been with the university for two years but quickly signed on as one of the professors for the general global studies program in plant biology. The program is designed to integrate lecture, field and research together. This is the first time the program has gone to the other side of the world.

"It has a lot of variation in forest types all the way from tropical rainforests up to tropical deciduous forest," says Matlack of why he chose Thailand. "Besides from the natural environment, it's a cool culture."

Although the competition to get into the program is tough, if you're genuinely interested in tropical plants, culture, and want to experience something new then check out the global studies program. Each year the global studies program explores a different part of the world.


Kelly Durso is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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