Students in the Biology Department have many opportunities to expand their learning outside the classroom. These include field trips that are essential parts of the curriculum of individual courses (e.g., Ecology, Aquatic Biology); presentation of research at academic conferences; service opportunities with the community (e.g. Upward Bound Science Saturdays with high school students); and additional outdoor events with an educational focus organized by the department.
Course Field Projects
BIO 370 (Principles of Ecology)
Students in this course are introduced to the foundational concepts of ecology at the species, community, and ecosystem levels. Ecology is often best understood in the context of field observation and analysis, and students in groups conduct multiple field projects that explore aspects of central Georgia ecology.
Bird diversity assays: Students learn to identify common bird species of central Georgia by sight and song, and use these skills to perform surveys of bird diversity in nearby parks. Survey data are used to compare species diversity within and across sites, and students propose possible explanations for observed differences (or lack thereof).
Spider web architecture: Nephila clavipes (golden orb-weaving spider) is a large, sexually dimorphic spider found in woodlands and bottomlands of central Georgia. Females spin large webs that may contain abundant prey, mates, and even tiny kleptoparasitic spiders. Students locate and measure adult female spiders and aspects of their webs in the fall, and use these data to test hypotheses for the relationship of spider size and web structure to correlates of female fitness.
BIO 390 (Biology of Aging)
This course explores the biology of human aging, including the biological mechanisms responsible for aging at the cellular, tissue, and whole organism levels, the evolutionary basis for aging and persistence of age-related diseases, and modern medical treatments for these diseases. It also includes a service learning component where each student visits with a hospice care patient for 3-4 hours each week. Patients benefit from the social support and assistance provided by students, who in turn gain from the experience of directly helping hospice care patients. Students document these experiences through weekly journal writing, reflecting on both their hospice patient and his or her progression through hospice care, and their own personal development.
Special Departmental Trips
Cumberland Island National Seashore (Spring 2015): Biology students in February 2015 spent a weekend camping on Cumberland Island off of the southeastern Georgia coast. This beautiful island preserves some of the best remaining coastal barrier island habitats in Georgia, and has a rich archeological history detailing hundreds of years of human settlement. Despite suboptimal weather, Mercer students enjoyed spectacular beaches, rare wildlife, and an enthusiastic camping experience led by Dr. Byron and Dr. Stephenson.
- Cloudland Canyon State Park (Spring 2016): Dr. Byron and Dr. Stephenson led this camping trip to one of Georgia's most beautiful parks, in the Appalachian Mountains of northeast Georgia. Springtime wildflowers, spectacular waterfalls, and a diverse array of amphibians and reptiles enjoying the spring weather made this a very successful trip!