By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Although this is her fourth year teaching science at Dassel-Cokato Middle School, Beth Keskey doesn’t let her being at the head of the classroom keep her from learning new material herself.
This summer, Keskey had a nine-day adventure in Baja California, Mexico, where she was part of a global field master’s program (GFP) through Miami University, Oxford, OH.
“The summer field experience I had in Baja California was truly amazing,” shared Keskey. “I learned a lot about myself, and how to work with others. Everyone is so different, and entering back into the student role from the teacher role is such a good reminder of learning and communication differences.”
The GFP intrigued Keskey because of its opportunities for travel, its affordability and flexibility, and its enthusiasm for pursuing curiosity and passion in science. Her trip to Baja was the first of three abroad experiences Keskey will have throughout her studies.
Through the master’s program, Keskey hopes to gain a deeper understanding of how to help her students better understand the environment, while instilling a passion in them for science.
“[Plus], as a self-declared lifelong learner, research satisfies my [own] passion for science,” she added.
The research Keskey was involved with on this particular venture was studying the marine, mainland, and island ecosystems of Baja.
According to the GFP website, this course allowed students to become familiar with, and practice methods used in field research, such as point sampling, capture/recapture, and quadrant studies. Other areas of study included marine investigations, inquiry-driven learning, an introduction to the ecology of desert ecosystems, community-based conservation, and participatory education.
Of all her memorable experiences, Keskey shared that her favorite part of the trip was when her research team came across hundreds of dolphins feasting, and some pelicans using the pod’s efforts to their advantage.
“Dolphins would race next to our boats, playing in the wake and jumping through the waves,” she remembered. “They lined up in droves and made hairpin turns, which eventually corralled their prey. Pelicans began diving into the water from above as dolphins jumped from the water and swam hungrily after the fish. The loud, noisy scene took a matter of minutes before the calm returned, and the pods started their ritual again. The pelicans waited patiently to capitalize on the dolphins’ work.
“It was a moment where I experienced nature at work. I could only watch in awe as the food web and symbiotic relationships I teach went from a simple concept in class to a real-life experience that I will treasure all of my life.”
Keskey also got to sleep on a cot under the desert stars, walk on ground “peppered” with small scorpions, eat tacos made with prickly pear, shower with water that would only fit in a gallon-bucket, and help clear a desert road leading to a house the group’s host family was building upon a cliff.
For anyone thinking about studying abroad, Keskey says it’s better to “just do it.”
“It will change your perspectives and life,” she said. “It will make you appreciate where you come from and who you are more than ever before. It will give you ideas you never knew you had, and produce confidence you never knew was missing.”