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b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_0675_20150717-154747_1.JPGLike most 18-year-olds trying to decide what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I was confused, lost and arguably disoriented. As I heard classmates speak of their future plans, neatly organized into a college major and future profession, I felt the panic start to sink in. 

Though I had already committed to Waynesburg University for the fall of 2012 and had declared my major as accounting, I was far from certain that I would spend the rest of my life crunching numbers. Nonetheless, in August of 2012, I embarked on my journey at Waynesburg University. 

In my first semester as a business major, I did exceedingly well, earning a 4.0 and ending the semester with good rapport with my professors whom ensured me that I held promise in my pursuit of a career in accounting. I regarded my successes as a good sign, and thought that maybe I wasn’t as lost as I had thought.

I continued on in the program, taking another accounting class in which I continued to excel, but deep down, I knew that I was lacking a passion for my studies. At times, it took a great deal of effort to bring myself to study my business textbooks. 

On the other hand, the College Composition course that I enrolled in during my second semester commanded my attention. I loved that it allowed me to write persuasively and develop compelling, fact-based arguments about hard issues facing our society. In other words, I was hooked and wanted to know where this new- found passion could lead.  

I decided to email my professor, Mrs. Nofsinger, and ask to meet with her to discuss my fascination with her course and my desire to learn more about career options. As a freshman, I was not yet aware of the relationship-centered culture of Waynesburg University, but I was about to discover what the university that I enrolled in was all about. 

My professor invited me to join her for lunch to discuss what was on my mind. We talked for an hour and she suggested I take a journalism course, promised me books for further exploration and recommended that I visit the counseling center for more vocational guidance. She also informed me that if I ever needed anything, to just let her know.

I was blown away by her kindness, but after meeting with several other professors and faculty members to discuss my options and smooth out the details of changing majors, I quickly discovered that this kindness was simply the Waynesburg way. Flash-forward to my senior year as a student in the Department of Communication, and I now know that my professors are not just teachers; they are mentors and personal resources there to encourage and offer advice to students when possible. 

Though unsure of the path I had chosen upon graduating high school, I could not be happier with my decision to come to Waynesburg University. While initially lost, I found my way in the loving atmosphere that is Waynesburg University. 

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_6-1-Narasimhan.JPGThis is my last week at the sanctuary! It is extremely bittersweet. I have gotten to know some really amazing people and monkeys. My body has adjusted to living in this harsh environment. I can now hike up and down the mountain twice in one day. My first week here, I could hardly do one trip. The heat no longer feels suffocating, but the bugs are still just as annoying. I am looking forward to air conditioning and seeing my family, but I truly have enjoyed my time here.

I would love to do more field research in the future. This experience showed me that I am not only capable of doing it, but that I love it and I’m good at it. In the beginning it seemed as if I was going to fail miserably, but a short four weeks later, I am a hiking, jungle-loving machine. This experience also showed me how much I want to work with animals. I loved creating enrichment activities for them, observing their behavior and caring for them. I can’t wait for the day when I can do it every day and call it a career. I feel so blessed to have had this amazing experience. I want to thank everyone at the sanctuary, including the monkeys, who made me feel so at home and for teaching me so much.

 

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-28-Narasimhan.jpgBack at the sanctuary, things are getting busy. Everyday, tons of data is being collected, whether it be behavioral data from our baby howlers or population estimates from transects. When we perform transects, we are walking along set pathways through the jungle and recording every mammal that we see, and precisely where we see them. 

The pathways are through two different ecosystems: the primary forest corridor and then through the teak plantation. The corridors connect fragmented forests and allow animals to move between them, preventing isolation. The teak areas are being harvested and have been cut in a way that can sometimes prevent animals from using them.

Using this data, we can see what animals are using the two different environments and how often. Because teak plantations can be devastating to local populations, this teak plantation was cut in a way that left the understory, and it can still be used by animals. In addition to simply comparing the two environments, we are also using this data to compare to other teak plantations where the understory has been completely removed.

The hypothesis is that the plantation where we are collecting data will demonstrate more biodiversity and will prove to be more sustainable than other teak plantations. Conservation and sustainability are the reason for all of our work at Aloutta, and I’m enjoying learning about how to make the world a better place, one step at a time.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_5-25-Narasimhan.JPGEverything is going very well here at the sanctuary. We had a couple of visitors this week, all Panamanian businessmen and their families. They were very interested to hear about the work we are doing here with the monkeys and our research. All of their businesses are devoted to sustainability and conservation, and they are not alone. Throughout Central America, these ideas are beginning to trend in areas such as agriculture and the building of infrastructure. It was extremely interesting to learn about all the things their businesses are doing and the possibilities of a more sustainable world. It would really be amazing if more and more businesses adopted these policies. 

I wrote about some of the research we are doing on different types of teak plantations and which are the most sustainable. Hopefully, when our research is done, it will be used to make more responsible decisions about how teak plantations are made. This is just one example of the type of work that is being done, and all around the world it is really making an impact. I love learning about the different ways we can help make our home a better place for us right now and for future generations.

 

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Today we visited the indigenous village of Ngöbe and the people there. To get there, we took a two-hour truck ride up the mountain. We got to tour an organic coffee farm run by the local people. Sustainability is beginning to trend in businesses all throughout Panama, even in the remotest of villages. 

The members of this village live a simple life, but it is far from boring. The women wear a beautifully colored traditional dress called the Ngwä. For lunch, we ate a traditional meal of a salad with a homemade dressing, rice and plantains. It was delicious. While we ate, there were several children playing and chattering in the local language nearby. 

We asked to play soccer with them, but they were extremely shy. It seemed they don’t receive many visitors from outside the village, and didn’t know how to respond. All the same, the people were very welcoming and smiled patiently when we spoke our broken Spanish. I loved learning about and seeing their culture. It is uninterrupted by technology and the outside world, but full of life and meaning. 

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