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SFS Presents Distinguished Student Researcher Award

Beverly, MassachusettsJune 29, 2012 - The School for Field Studies (SFS) presented its bi-annual Distinguished Student Researcher Award to two alumni today in recognition of the exceptional environmental research they conducted while studying abroad during the spring semester of 2012. The winners are Gina Lee of Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, who recently graduated from Boston University, and Matthew Manley of Warren, Connecticut, who is a senior at Clark University.

Each year, The School for Field Studies honors its most exceptional students with Distinguished Student Researcher Awards for their important contributions in environmental research. SFS semester students engage in undergraduate research guided by SFS faculty on projects related to the Center's Five Year Research Plan (5YRP). Outcomes of these Directed Research (DR) projects provide information and recommendations to community members and other stakeholders on critical, local environmental issues.

Students are nominated by SFS faculty based on their demonstrated sophistication in research design, field work, reporting, and their contribution to the Center's 5YRP. The SFS award also recognizes the students’ leadership exhibited while working with a team of student and faculty researchers in the field.

SFS Interim President Jack Waggett and Dean Dr. Robin Sears presented the Award this summer with nominations from the students' DR advisors:

  • Lee’s advisor, Dr. Gerardo Avalos, Center Director of The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Atenas, Costa Rica
  • Manley’s advisor, Dr. Amanda Freeman, Lecturer in Principles of Forest Management and now Center Director of The SFS Center for Rainforest Studies in Queensland, Australia

Gina Lee, Boston University and SFS Costa Rica

Lee’s research project, Aerodynamic and morphological variation in the highland hummingbirds of Cerro de La Muerte, overseen by SFS Center Director Dr. Gerardo Avalos, focused on the variations in the shapes and sizes of hummingbirds’ wings and bodies, and their aerodynamic capabilities, in an attempt to understand the degrees of specialization and the variation in competitive abilities of hummingbirds. The observed differences in morphology may have implications for hummingbird behavior and future responses in the way they access nectar resources and respond to environmental changes.

Avalos said, “[Lee] presents an outstanding contribution to the knowledge we have on highland hummingbirds, especially the morphological requirements and aerodynamic factors that facilitate the exploitation of highland habitats by these species. There is little information available on the subject.”

Matthew Manley, Clark University and SFS Australia

Manley’s research project, Assessing the effects of abandoned logging tracks on light-demanding tree species richness and abundance in a North Queensland rainforest, focused on historic land use in Robson Creek TERN supersite, part of the larger Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and the lasting effects of selective logging practices on the environment. Manley used GIS to analyze collected data on species richness and abundance in the rainforest, and evaluated how tree diversity changed with distance from historic logging tracks.

“Matthew’s results demonstrate the longevity of logging track impacts on rainforest plant communities," said Freeman.  "Although the former logging tracks are no longer visible and the effects on the physical environment no longer seem apparent, plant community composition continues to reflect the logging track disturbance forty years after they were last used.  There are few sites worldwide where a tropical rainforest community is being so intensively studied and where timber extraction has ceased and the long-term impacts can be assessed. This has implications for forestry management and rainforest restoration.”




Leslie Granese,, 978.304.6963
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About The School for Field Studies For more than 30 years, The School for Field Studies (SFS), the nation's largest environmental study abroad program for college undergraduates, has combined hands-on, multi-disciplinary environmental studies with scientific research to propose sustainable solutions to critical environmental problems. SFS students work with local communities to discover practical ways to manage their natural resources, and in the process undergo a transformational experience that helps them to advance their careers as skilled professionals and to become globally aware citizens.

About SFS Five Year Research Plan and Directed Research Projects
SFS Centers have developed long-term research plans to help identify, address, and resolve critical environmental problems, providing information to assist local, regional and national agencies in resource management decision-making. The purpose of these research plans is to respond to the resource conservation and management needs of the local community, provide a roadmap for the academic and research components of our field programs, and fulfill SFS research requirements and collaborate with other academic and scientific institutions. Directed Research topics are defined by the 5YRP and build on previous research, addressing an environmental problem relevant to the local community.