At Floods Pond in Otis, Maine, University of Maine junior Ben
Wasserman participates in research led by Associate Professor of
Biological Sciences Michael Kinnison on Maine's Arctic charr living
in a dozen freshwater bodies statewide. The fish are caught by net
and brought on shore, where Wasserman takes measurements and digital
photos of them to analyze their body shape. He also scans for
passive integrated responder (PIT) tags, indicating previously
caught charr, and inserts tags in new fish. The fish are then
released. The mark-recapture techniques allow the researchers to
estimate population size, which is valuable in management of the
Links related to this story
Conservation and Ecology
From the woods of Maine to the Oklahoma
prairie and the Arizona desert, Ben Wasserman has ranged far afield in
the last few years from the New York City suburb where he grew up. Along
the way, the University of Maine junior wildlife ecology and math major
has done research on a broad range of animal species.
He even learned the proper way to take the
temperature of a fierce-looking, spiny lizard that can squirt a 3-foot
stream of blood from the corners of its eyes.
Last year, the honors student was awarded a
prestigious Morris K. Udall Scholarship for demonstrating an exemplary
commitment to making a career in the environmental field. While the
$5,000 certainly will come in handy, Wasserman says the best part of the
award was meeting the 79 other recipients from across the country who
gathered for a few days in Tucson to talk about their common passions
for the natural world and how they hope to put them to good use.
"It really was an incredible experience, being
surrounded by so many like-minded, conservation-oriented people," says
Wasserman. "It inspired me."
Wasserman wasn't exposed to much in the way of
wildlife while growing up on busy Long Island, N.Y. But once he started
working at a local natural history museum, he found that he enjoyed
caring for the live animals that — except for a 6-foot iguana —
represented a cross section of the regional fauna.
By the time he started thinking about college,
Wasserman was already leaning toward environmental studies. At UMaine,
he went looking for hands-on opportunities to learn.
The summer after his freshman year, he worked on
three research projects led by graduate students. For one, he counted
scat samples as part of an evaluation of the relationships between
snowshoe hare, Canada lynx and vegetation in areas affected by forestry
practices in northern Maine. He also trapped pine marten in northern
Maine to validate a predictive GIS model, and did radio telemetry for a
project that examined the threat of road mortality on the population
viability of Blanding's and spotted turtles, two rare species in
As a sophomore, he joined UMaine's ongoing research
led by evolutionary biologist Michael Kinnison on the Arctic charr
population at Floods Pond in Otis. Maine's Arctic charr, a relative of
trout and salmon, are found in only about a dozen state water bodies.
They represent the most southerly populations of the salmonid fish and
the only indigenous ones in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
In particular, UMaine researchers are looking at how
body shapes of charr have evolved differently from lake to lake in
relation to the food sources available to them in a competitive habitat.
"I'm interested in community ecology, the
interaction of all different species that form a biological community,"
In addition to his wildlife ecology studies,
Wasserman declared math as his second major last spring, convinced that
it would play an important role in the computer modeling that is so much
a part of ecological research.
"Math is huge," says Wasserman, who serves on the
Dean's Advisory Committee for the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry,
and Agriculture. "You can use it to go all sorts of places, from the
very theoretical research to the very applied. I would like my future to
walk that line between the two."
Eager to learn about reptiles and amphibians in the
field, Wasserman worked last summer with a Southern Illinois University
– Carbondale doctoral student who is studying a population of Texas
horned lizards in Oklahoma. Largely desert dwellers, the lizards are a
threatened species in much of their range. Wasserman's lizard study
group lives near an Air Force base on the prairie, a northern outpost
for their kind.
Wasserman and the team used radiotelemetry tracking
and body temperature readings to observe how the lizards use the thermal
landscape, moving from one zone to another as necessary throughout the
day. The team also did a general survey of the full range of wildlife in
"It was a great experience to be out on the prairie, to work in such
unfamiliar territory," he says.
Wasserman hopes to one day carve out a career that
incorporates a satisfying blend of ecology and conservation.
"My motivation has always been conservation," says
Wasserman, who plans to get more wildlife fieldwork experience before
going to grad school, "but I want to do ecological research that informs
conservation measures and policy. I guess I see myself pushing the
envelope to better understand the ecology of the system, how humans are
involved and how we can mitigate the damage we do."
Social Work Abroad
Cindy DeWilde and Esther Palmans of Belgium, front, left to right,
and Morten Andreasen of Denmark spent the past fall semester at the
University of Maine as part of the United States-European Union
social work-social education exchange. The three shared their
perspectives on the client-oriented approach of their social
education training. In turn, they were introduced to such aspects of
social work as community-based service, mandated documentation, and
boundaries between practitioner and client. "This experience has
provided a mirror for me to see my own practice within a different
culture," Andreasen said.
In the United States, the discipline is
called social work. In the European Union, there is a type of social
work called social education. Both focus on the socio-educational needs
of individuals and communities, but each goes about it very differently.
Giving undergraduates an opportunity to understand
the strengths of social work and social education through study abroad
experiences and faculty exchanges is the goal of a four-year project
involving three U.S. and three EU colleges and universities.
The project, the Transatlantic Alliance for Creating
a New Social Services Practice Model, is funded by a more than $250,000
grant from the U.S. Department of Education through its Fund for the
Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The grant has made it possible
for students from the University of Maine, Barry University and
Providence College, Plantijn Hogeschool in Belgium, Peter Sabroe
Seminariet in Denmark and the Universitat Ramon Llull in Spain to be
involved in semester-long exchanges, fieldwork, and Web-based coursework
"The goal is for our students to go abroad and learn
some of the skills of social educators that they can bring into their
social work practice, and vice versa," says UMaine Associate Professor
of Social Work Gail Werrbach, who wrote the grant in collaboration with
the nonprofit International Learning Exchange, based in Maine.
At UMaine, the first student exchange was in fall
2005. Since then, seven UMaine social work undergrads and one graduate
student have studied in Belgium and Denmark, and nine students from
those countries and Spain have come to Maine. Werrbach and her
counterparts at the other institutions have been visiting faculty.
Both social work and social education strive to
improve people's functioning and support the social-cultural areas of
their lives, Werrbach says. But social work also emphasizes advocacy for
populations of people and changing social policies. Social workers with
bachelor's degrees are often case managers; those with master's tend to
work in clinical treatment settings.
In addition, social work is empirically based, with
an emphasis on how to measure effectiveness, she says.
Social education focuses on working with small
groups and individuals. Social educators are trained to incorporate
personal strengths into their practice.
"In some ways, social educators work more like the
old-time group work social workers. They incorporate personal interests
(i.e. music, sports or crafts) into their professional lives to improve
clients' functioning," Werrbach says. "In the U.S., we've become so
totally into looking at behaviors that we haven't figured out how to get
back to a holistic view of the individual client."
Kate Norman, one of two UMaine students in Belgium
this past fall, says one of the most important lessons she learned was
to view each client as a unique individual.
"It is my goal as a social worker to help meet their
objectives instead of viewing clients as my objective," she says.
Norman says her study abroad experience challenged
her personally and professionally, giving her increased confidence in
her skills as a social work student.
"As a result of this experience," she says, "I am
looking into joining the Peace Corps to do HIV outreach in Africa."