There is No Off-Season for the Student-Athlete: A Bucknell Volleyball Summer Experience
Aug. 8, 2008
Throughout the summer, members of the Bucknell volleyball squad will be checking in and sharing the various educational endeavors they are pursuing while away from Lewisburg. Here is the second installment, courtesy of junior psychology major Allison Gittings.
For previous installments, follow the below link:
First, I’d like to welcome the Class of 2012! I’m sure you’re all excited and anxious about your Bucknell decision. Let me assure you that you are connecting with a dynamic school! As an example, just take a look at our volleyball team this summer. Aside from our summer workout, we have players that are heading youth camps in the Rockies, involved in internships in the Big Apple and London, playing volleyball at the international level in Europe and Australia, and doing research at Bucknell and other institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
For my part, I took a course in tropical ecology in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. The course was offered through the biology department of Bucknell (O’Leary Hall) during the month of June. Prior to our trip, Dr. Mitch Chernin and Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi-Evans oriented our group of approximately 25 students on campus so we could become familiar with tropical invertebrates, fish, corals, and algae. We watched videos about the types of coral communities we could expect to see, what a healthy coral community looks like, and the different types of reefs. They walked us through their expectations for class participation and journal writing, showed us how to collect and chart data, and explained criteria for the final project and paper. They also explained logistics for travel, accommodations and the itinerary.
We began our journey in St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bucknell was flexible with individual needs, allowing us to customize our own travel rather than having to fly as a group. I elected to fly on a super saver, which enabled me to extend my visit a few days. When we all arrived at the Cinnamon Bay campground, we chose our roommates and bunked in rustic cabins. Our adventure was just beginning that first night, as we were eaten alive by mosquitoes and slept under thin sticky sheets without air conditioning.
The next morning we were awakened by Professor Chernin around 7:30 a.m. We were expected to have eaten and be in the pavilion by 9 a.m. For the first snorkel, we carried all of our gear and walked out onto the beach and headed towards the Cinnamon Bay Fingers. As we snorkeled along the reef, I realized how much I didn’t know about the organisms I was seeing. We found ourselves asking some of life’s most persistent questions, like, “What is that?”
The coral community we observed at the fingers was pretty dull compared to what we saw over the next two weeks. The first week we studied many different sites around St John. We snorkeled everyday from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m. Each night we had a lecture and completed our journals from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. During that time, we reviewed what we had seen that day, asked questions about fish behavior, and looked up organisms that we were unsure of. We kept track of what we saw and their abundance at different sites on charts in hopes of learning something about the environments organisms thrive in. We noticed a high abundance of sea urchins in locations where they were protected from strong currents and waves. This was an important observation because the population of sea urchins plummeted in the 1980’s, allowing algae populations to skyrocket, suffocating coral. Scientists are still worried they may not make a comeback, but the abundance of sea urchins in the Virgin Islands bode well for the recovery and future of coral reefs.
The most beautiful snorkel we went on was at Water Lemon Cay. It was a mile-long hike to the site, and sweltering hot, so the chilly water that morning was welcoming. We put our fins on and backed into the water, making sure to keep our balance to avoid falling on the sea urchins and the rocks. Once we were in open water, we could see the vibrant colors of the reef surrounding the cay. Fish were high in diversity, and the water pristine. When we circled around the back side of the coral, we found a colony of starfish. There had to be over 100 within sight and some of the students had the creative idea to arrange the starfish so that they spelled out SAE, the fraternity many of them belonged to. We saw sting rays, trumpetfish, barracudas, and fire and brain coral everywhere and stayed in the water for hours, until the professors had to call us in.
The next day we woke up at 5 a.m. and took a ferry to Virgin Gorda, a British Virgin Island. After we went through customs, we checked into our cabins, complete with running water (not pull chain showers) and electricity. It was paradise - a very hot paradise. The climate of Virgin Gorda was completely different from St. John. It was desert-like, with cactuses and lizards and enormous rocks taller than some houses. The rocks, formed thousands of years ago are in a famous national park, The Baths, named for the beauty and mystique of their large rocks and clear waters.
During the next week, we began to study daily changes in the environment and how it affected fish behavior. We selected one coral that we would snorkel to more than eight times and keep track of change. This was our big project for the course - to study one particular spot, name and diagram every organism we saw on the reef and make conclusions and comparisons to other coral communities we had previously seen. We took notes and drew pictures of our coral that would assist us in writing our papers, which we did stateside, by the way, after returning home. It was helpful to complete the paper at home with time to process all that we had seen and learned.
During our down time in Virgin Gorda, there was no town to visit, so we hung out in our cabins and it was here that all of the students truly bonded. I am hopeful that I made lasting friendships with many people. I can’t wait to return to Bucknell to share the memories.
Looking back it is amazing how much we learned in just two weeks. I really enjoyed the opportunity to scuba dive with the professors on numerous occasions, and on a subsequent trip to the Dominican Republic, I found myself pointing out seaweed, algae and fish to family members as it had become second nature. I highly recommend this experience, especially to athletes that may not have the time to study abroad for a semester.
Now that I’ve completed the course work, I plan to spend the rest of the summer working and focusing on getting in shape for preseason training. In summer, I work out with my sister Dana, who plays volleyball for St. Mary’s College of Maryland. It’s convenient as we both work for Fusion and are on the same schedule (Fusion is a contracting firm that installs computer network systems for schools and businesses). Nevertheless, I am counting down the days to reunite with my team and play volleyball!
And so it goes. To my teammates, One Heartbeat! Work hard – for yourselves, for the team, and for the championship! To everyone else at BU, I hope you’ll come meet us in Davis Gym!
- Allison Gittings '10