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Students learn fish biology firsthand in biodiversity hotspot

Loyola press release - September 16, 2013

Loyola University New Orleans students enrolled in a Biology of Fishes class started the fall semester gaining real skills through exposure to fish habitats in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. The area is home to the Conasauga River, a biodiversity hotspot boasting some of the greatest diversity of fishes in North America.

The students spent the Labor Day holiday weekend actively learning how to identify fishes, how to master different fish sampling methods, and how to measure stream habitat and water flow—all valuable skills for careers in fisheries biology, environmental science, aquatic resource management and related fields.

“The most exciting part of the trip was getting to experience a habitat I had never been in before. I loved being able to stand in the creeks and look at the mountains while collecting fish. It was a beautiful
experience,” said Loyola senior Jenny Simon. “Several of the exercises we did could have been explained in the lab but are taught much more effectively in the field where students can hold the instruments in their hands and see them working in action.”

Professor and chair of Loyola’s Biological Sciences Department Frank Jordan, Ph.D., said field trips are essential for reinforcing concepts and skills discussed in lectures, and to make learning about science more engaging and exciting. “We get kids out of their comfort zone,” he said. And the payoff for learning is huge. “While you might find 10 species of fishes in a stream near New Orleans, you’ll find 50 species in a similar-sized stream in Tennessee. You could see dozens of species in minutes in crystal clear water.”

“This trip allowed us to be hands-on, which really let us gain the skill sets we need. I absolutely would rather learn in the field than the classroom because it makes more of a lasting impression when you are actually experiencing what you are learning,” said Loyola junior Mallory Hirschler.

The learning experience was definitely not a typical biology class. The students, who camped in the national forest, also went whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River, hiked on trails near the Hiwassee River and toured the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Loyola’s biology department regularly provides exciting, educational and transformative field experiences for both majors and non-majors.

Please contact Mikel Pak, Loyola associate director of public affairs, for media interviews at 504-861-5448.