Biology on the Emerald Isle: Study Abroad Program Provides Transformative Experiences

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By Greg Watry, College of Biological Sciences

Joanne Newens entered UC Davis as a nutrition major on the pre-med track. At first, courses in the biological sciences were steppingstones on the path to medical school. She enrolled in prerequisites, spent time studying in the library and attended lectures. But something was missing from her life in academia.

Searching, Newens decided to spend the summer following her freshman year abroad in Cork, Ireland, traveling with the “Bio Sci 2A on the Emerald Isle” study abroad program. Over roughly five weeks, she and other UC Davis students took classes at the University College Cork (UCC) and immersed themselves in Irish culture.

“I didn’t want to take classes just to fill prerequisites. I wanted to take classes because I was interested in them,” said Newens, now a junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major. “Being in a classroom filled with less people than a normal lecture and having a personal relationship with a professor really laid the groundwork of my love for science, and that’s why I switched majors.”

Students involved in the Bio Sci 2A on the Emerald Isle
Joanne Newens

Newens’ journey through Ireland in 2017 was led by UCC instructor Kellie Dean. Newens remembered the contagious excitement Dean exuded while discussing biological concepts, like the structure and function of ribonucleic acid (RNA).

“You could see the passion in her eyes when she talked about RNA,” recalled Newens. “And I thought, ‘It’s so cool that you’re passionate about something so small, something that I’d never even thought of.’”

Inspired by Dean, Newens returned to the UC Davis campus invigorated. “I tried to find passion in science and it worked," she said.

Travel is transformative, but often, undergraduates—especially those in the life sciences—think they don’t have the time to study abroad due to rigorous academic demands. Missing a prerequisite course one quarter can have a ripple effect that disrupts an academic track. However, the Ireland program is designed with College of Biological Sciences’ students in mind.

“Personally, I think all students should go abroad; it enhances any liberal arts education,” said Professor Mitchell Singer, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Singer traveled with the Ireland program in summer 2017. “It's important to not only see but participate in other cultures. As for biologists, learning to interact and discuss science to others is important.” 

"Science is so transferable among different countries and cultures," said Dean of the benefits of life sciences students studying abroad. "It makes you realize that science is a great degree that can take you anywhere."

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