Stephanie Fowler hiked mountains and volcanoes, encountered a shark while snorkeling,
and slept aboard a yacht for seven nights during her recent LaGrange College study-away
trip to the Galápagos Islands.
Along with her biology professor Dr. William Paschal, she and nine other students
recently returned from the 10-day trip, taken during the "Jan Term," or the middle
of the 4-1-4 academic calendar. During the first month of each year, LaGrange College
students explore course content through hands-on, on-campus projects, independent
research, internships and study-away experiences.
"It's such an interesting and unique place on this earth," says Stephanie, who
just graduated with a biology degree and is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching
degree. "I don't think there's anywhere else in the world you can find an ocean,
a volcano, a rain forest and desert plants within a half-mile radius of each other."
The group flew from Atlanta Jan. 6 to Miami and then to Quito, Ecuador, where
they spent two nights. While in Quito, they performed water droplet testing and
saw firsthand how water spins counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise
in the southern hemisphere (due to magnetic pole differences in the earth's rotation).
They also visited Mitad del Mundo, or the Middle of the World monument, which marks
where the northern and southern hemispheres meet.
They then flew to the island of Baltra in the Galápagos, where they boarded a
yacht for their week's adventure.
"We woke up every morning in a different location," Stephanie says. "We were able
to go hiking and snorkeling, and to see all the animals and vegetation we had studied
before the trip. My favorites were the sea lions, and I realized when I got home
I had taken 600 pictures just of them."
Stephanie also saw many types of birds in their natural habitat, including blue-footed
boobies, Nazca boobies and the waved albatross. She and fellow LaGrange College
students also spotted dolphins and whales on a three-hour voyage from Española
Island to Floreana Island.
"While I was snorkeling, I swam right through a school of fish and got up close
with white-tipped sharks," Stephanie says. "I saw many, many types of starfish,
flounder, angelfish and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
"You're not allowed to feed animals on the islands; there are very strict regulations
because 97 percent of the islands are a national park," she says. "But just like
the animals in the water, the animals on land would get very close. They're used
to not being afraid of people because of the tourism. They looked like they were
posing for pictures, actually."
Well before the trip, Stephanie took an evolution class from Dr. Paschal. She
was eager to see where Charles Darwin based his theories after he studied finches
and other animals and plants there in 1831, the same year LaGrange College was
Stephanie says the trip will better prepare her to teach high-school biology after
she earns her Master of Arts in Teaching degree. The college offers the one-year
degree for those who have a four-year degree and want to become certified middle
school or high school teachers.
"How his studies relate macro-evolution and micro-evolution is pretty controversial,
especially for me, who is someone of deep faith," Stephanie says. "I
realized after taking the class that as a teacher, it would be a difficult subject
for me to teach, but I can't pass over it because my students will be tested on
"The trip has enabled me to realize you can study these things and disregard the
controversy by delving deep into the science part of it, by seeing that the Galápagos
has different wildlife and different vegetation that are endemic to these islands,"
she says. "If I could relay that message to my students and hopefully one day take
a class of my own there, that would be awesome."