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Women and men using binoculars

Dr. Ragupathy Kannan leads students and other interested people in Belize to observe the natural world.

Bell Tower | Arts and SciencesOctober 03, 2023

A Look through the Lens at Belize

Written By: Judith Hansen

A senior biology major at AV, preparing to attend medical school, spent the first part of the summer honing his filmmaking skills and adding to his bird life list in Belize. It might seem a counter-intuitive use of time for the student who spent the rest of the summer studying for the MCAT and gaining “shadow hours” so he can apply to medical school.

But Ryan Jacobs, who expects to graduate in December, jumped at the chance to join biology professor Dr. Ragupathy Kannan on a trip to the Central American country in May. Ryan said he loves “many different aspects of both the natural sciences and medicine” and has prepared for graduate school in various disciplines, making this trip perfect for him.

Kannan takes students, and sometimes community members, to observe wildlife and learn about the environment most summers.

Kannan had a specific goal this year: He wanted a of the trip.

“I’ve always wanted an educational and informative documentary that covers all aspects of the trip,” Kannan said. “It will be an invaluable educational tool for future students. Besides, making a documentary will be a great experience for honors students.”

That’s where Ryan came in.

“As Myles Friedman Honors students, we are required to attend an international study program abroad in addition to our intensive studies to successfully graduate with honors,” Ryan explained, adding that he didn’t think he’d be able to complete that requirement because of financial concerns until this opportunity arose.

“When I heard Dr. Kannan was taking students to Belize, it was a no-brainer that I wanted to do everything I could to get in on this trip,” he said. “Although this trip would help me get the honors credit I need, I wanted to go because I had never been out of the country before, and to get to study wildlife in a foreign country with my peers sounded like the trip of a lifetime.”

Ryan explained the trip’s objectives.

“Our goal in Belize was to study the major plant and animal interactions … and to document the various flora and fauna species.”

His own goals were broader.

“I began working on the documentary because Dr. Kannan wanted someone to make an educational documentary regarding what we learned, and I have experience in audio mixing, so I thought it would be a fun project for me to take on. Every day I took video of our morning walks and recorded candid moments in the field.

“When I got back home, I planned out what aspects of the trip I wanted in my video, wrote a script, and narrated over the videos I took. After a lot of editing and around six hours of work, my documentary was complete. I was really proud of it and enjoyed my time making it.”

Kannan said the experience, in addition to sharpening Ryan’s digital editing skills, would help him to learn “to communicate science effectively to undergraduate students and the general public.”

Although Ryan was proud that the group documented more than 400 species and had more than 1,000 observations, not all activities had a direct pedagogic end.

“Even for how excited I was for the trip, every day exceeded my expectations,” Ryan said. “We worked hard every day from 5 a.m. until dark, but we also had a ton of fun. To name a few exciting events, we canoed the Macal River through the dense forest ecosystem of Belize, visited the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, snorkeled the Caye Caulker marine reserve, and experienced some of the culture by helping a local make homemade tortillas.”

“I think just the simplicity of life and appreciation of the wildlife in Belize is something I will carry with me throughout life,” Ryan said. “Words can barely describe how grateful I am.”

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  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Biology

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