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Junior Fills Time at Otterbein with Hands-on Learning Experiences

Junior Fills Time at Otterbein with Hands-on Learning Experiences

By Alli Bates ’16

Editor’s Note: Troy identifies outside of the gender binary and is referred to as they/their.

Otterbein University encourages students to enhance their education with hands-on experiences outside the classroom. Through the Five Cardinal Experiences program, or “Five Cards,” Otterbein educates students about opportunities related to global engagement, research or creative work, internships, leadership and community engagement.

Junior Troy Neptune definitely got the message. They are an honors student, a double major in art and zoo and conservation science, a resident assistant, a peer advisor and president of the Deaf Culture Club. They have gotten their hands dirty working in the Otterbein Community Garden.

And then there is their research and global engagement: Neptune has traveled abroad both to Panama to research tree frogs and to Belize to study coral reefs.

Neptune traveled to Panama with Associate Professor Sarah Bouchard for six weeks to begin honors research on tree frogs. They had been working in Bouchard’s lab since
Neptune’s first year at Otterbein when the opportunity was presented.

“In the fall of my sophomore year, Dr. Bouchard asked me if I would be interested in traveling to Panama to study tropical amphibians, and I was incredibly excited. I did not realize in that moment that my time in Panama would change my life, and it did,” said Neptune.

In Panama, Neptune focused on the nutritional ecology of red-eyed tree frogs and how it changes with predation.

“Although this was our primary research, I learned so much more by being surrounded by other researchers. My roommate studied insects, and despite my disdain for the giant beetle in our freezer, I learned to appreciate its role in the environment.”

Neptune’s favorite part about being in Panama was interacting with people who love animals and biology as much as they do.

“I had conversations all the time about different animals and what people were researching. Of course, the animals were one of the best parts; we saw so many different species, like tamanduas, sloths, frogs, toucans and more. I hope I can go back again sometime,” said Neptune.

Neptune also took a shorter, but similarly rewarding trip to conduct research in Belize.

“I traveled with a class to Belize to study the ecology of the coral reef systems for two weeks, as well as experience the culture,” said Neptune.

Neptune has always had an interest in marine biology, so a class that included snorkeling in Belize was perfect for them. In the limited amount of time they had, the class was able to snorkel in the Belizean Cayes to see coral reef systems that included different species of invertebrates, fish and many others.

“Having studied ecology during my sophomore year and researching in Dr. Bouchard’s lab, I love studying the interactions between organisms and their environment,” said Neptune.

“We finished our trip by traveling into the rainforest to investigate the ecology of this complex, stunning ecosystem. Despite the howler monkeys keeping us awake at night, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip.”

Neptune’s trip to Belize also gave them a greater understanding and appreciation for the trees of the rainforest.

“They were giants in the rainforest! Their buttressed roots were gorgeous, and I loved touching their bark. They were filled with so much history, and I could not imagine watching a machine deforest such a place. It truly breaks my heart,” said Neptune.

Only a junior, Neptune has had experiences in all Five Cards, but expects more to come.

Learn more about the Five Cardinal Experiences and experiential learning at Otterbein.