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From getting up close and personal with a long-nosed potoroo to observing penguins and surveying koalas - studying environmental science at Deakin University means going to wild places and experiencing wild creatures.
“In environmental science we like to say our classrooms have no walls,” explained Dr John White, a practising wildlife ecologist and a senior lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
“We think it is critical for students to get out into the real world to truly appreciate what they are studying, to give them the opportunity to put what they are learning in class into practice.”
For first-year Wildlife and Conservation Biology and Environmental Management and Sustainability students, that can mean working with the Southern Ark Team at Cape Conran in East Gippsland, trapping and micro-chipping endangered species such as potoroos and bandicoots.
In second year, many students head for the wonderful landscape of the southern Grampians to carry out team-based research projects and learn how to cope in the field when things don’t go to plan.
As part of the Wildlife Field Studies unit, mostly third-year students essentially run a major field program in the magnificent Greater Otway National Park, studying wildlife populations.
For Tanja Petruzzi, the Otway field trip in the third year of her Wildlife and Conservation Biology course at Deakin was truly a hands-on experience.
“We were up early - before dawn - marking animals with ID tags and releasing them: dunnarts, native rats, pygmy possums. It was very hands-on and really helped me learn how to handle animals properly,” Tanja said. “I seem to learn better when I’m in the field. It helps open your mind and gives you a better understanding of what you are studying.”
Environmental field experience at Deakin isn’t just about dry land.
Marine Biology students get their feet wet studying a range of marine environments - such as rocky shores, mudflats and estuaries and working offshore from boats - as well as marine wildlife, including the chance to study seals and penguins.
Away from the ocean, Freshwater Biology students focus their fieldwork on rivers, lakes and wetlands and undertake activities such as recording the depth, salinity and flows of waterways, and studying the animals and plants to measure biodiversity and the health of these critical freshwater environments.
“It’s all about getting our students out there,” said Dr Mike Weston, senior lecturer in Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Deakin. “It’s highly motivating for them, putting theory into practice. When our students are in the field you see a real transition in them; you see them become young professionals.”