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Biodiversity and Conservation - From VCU to Sicily

IMG_2515ps.jpgVCU Rice Center director Leonard Smock joined professors Don Young, Department of Biology; Steve McIninch, Center for Environmental Studies and professors from the University of Messina in Sicily, to teach a course this summer on biodiversity and conservation in the aquatic environment. Ten biology and environmental studies students from VCU joined ten students from the University of Messina in this cross-cultural course arranged through the Center for Integrative Mediterranean Studies, an international partnership of VCU, the University of Messina and the University of Córdoba in Spain. Funding for the course was provided by the Italian Ministry of Education, the University of Messina and VCU.

Students spent the first two weeks of the class in Richmond at VCU. As part of the class, they travelled to streams in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sampled the James River from a boat, traversed wetlands and had multiple trips to the habitats at the VCU Rice Center. It wasn’t all work for the students while at VCU — they had a day in Washington, D.C., rafted down the James River, went to a minor league baseball game and had many evening interactions with the VCU students.

The second two weeks of the class were spent in Sicily, with the students living and having class at the Alcantera Fluvial Park’s Environmental Research, Training and Education Center in the hillside town of Castiglione. While in Sicily, the students and professors worked in the Alcantera River, experienced the biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea coast and hiked on old lava flows of Mt. Etna, a volcano that erupted only a week after the students left, spewing forth a stream of molten lava. The course was a great scientific and cultural learning experience for all 20 students and the professors. Another similar course is now being planned for next year.

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