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UMaine Today Magazine


Student Focus

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 rare species.
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 rare species.
 

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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 southern Maine.

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," says Wasserman.

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 the region.
"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."


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.
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.
 

Social Work Abroad

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 and collaboration.

"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."
 

UMaine Today Magazine
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