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Released October 24, 2003

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - As a grade-schooler, Elizabeth Knotts took a biology field trip at The University of Southern Mississippi 18 years ago and decided then to pursue a career in science. Now a biology student at Southern Miss, Knotts hoped to make the same kind of impact on the lives of young students touring the university's Biological Sciences Learning Center on Friday.

Knotts, a senior biology major from Purvis, was one of a handful of graduate and undergraduate student volunteers who led more than 150 students from Columbia Primary School on the center's "Biology Trail." Featuring stuffed rattlesnakes, wooly mammoth teeth, whale skeletons, spiders, marine tanks and more, the trail consists of 17 stations where students learn about the wonders of the natural world.

For third-grader Ryan Green, 8, all the eye-popping exhibits were right up the future scientist's alley.

"I want to study about creatures when I grow up, like starfish and swordfish," Green said, standing near a display of deep-sea creature exoskeletons and preserved stingrays. Green was rattled a bit by the carcass of a sidewinder when he first entered the Learning Center because of a dream he said he had the night before. "When my teacher said we were going to look at snakes, I had a dream last night that a snake came up and coiled up beside me," he said.

Emily Kelly, 8, also said she got a scare when she was greeted by the rattler and a stuffed alligator near the center's front door. "My teacher scared me - I thought they were real," Kelly said with a smile.

Learning Center coordinator Aimée Lee said the biology trail is a big draw for students from kindergarten through the university level. "We haven't really had to promote the center because it gets such good word of mouth from the people who come here," Lee said. "Schools are always looking for good field trips, and this one is free."

Welcoming about 25 tours and several hundred students a year, the Biology Trail and Learning Center was created in 1997. Formerly the Frazier Museum of Natural Science, the center is a focal point for the university's Department of Biological Sciences, housed within the College of Science and Technology. Two of the center's main attractions are an authentic whale skeleton called a Basilosaurus (Mississippi's official fossil) and an intact horse skeleton.

"Our center is an integral part of teacher preparation in the life sciences," Lee said. "The university enjoys a proud tradition of teacher education, and preparation of biology teachers is an essential activity of the Department of Biological Sciences." Funded by the National Science Foundation, the center offers instructional technology, informative stations, teacher enhancement workshops and experience-based laboratory curriculum.

Student Alana Whitehead, a senior biology major from Columbia, said she volunteered for the field trip to "get used to teaching science to children."

"This is a great way to get them inspired," said Whitehead, 23.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM