The idea of attending school in Hawaii is intriguing based on the scenery alone. But for students and scientists who study ecology and it’s global trends and patterns, the scenery only adds to the opportunity to study the extraordinary isolated ecosystems on the beautiful islands. SUNY Buffalo State ’03 alumnae Danielle Mateo, who studied what it takes to save species in the wild and engage with local partners, knows first hand the beauty and specifics of the land, its animals and the threats that the native species of Hawaii are under. Danielle, who is also Founder and Director of the GROW Club in Morrisville, N.C., was able to have this great opportunity by taking a graduate course in pursuit of her master’s degree with the Global Field Program Hawaii Earth Expedition.
Danielle was lucky enough to participate in Earth Expeditions, a groundbreaking global program supporting university courses, degree programs, and collaborative projects that are making a difference throughout the world. The program, jointly offered by Project Dragonfly at Miami University and conservation and education partners worldwide, provides the opportunity for students seeking a Master’s degree, scientists, educators, community leaders, and others to come together at conservation hotspots in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas for firsthand experience with inquiry-driven education, environmental stewardship, and global understanding.
During her time in Hawaii, Danielle was able to show her heroic spirit by developing and testing site-specific methods of community engagement to sustain ecological and social health in Hawaii. “While in Hawaii, we learned about the history of the islands and the people and focused mainly on what it takes to save a species from extinction. We hiked and observed Kilauea crater. We worked with staff at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, as they are preparing to release the ‘Alala (currently extinct in the wild Hawaiian crow) from captive breeding,” she says.
“Landscape tours of Muana Kea at sunset were breathtaking. An ethnobotany hike through the greenhouses at Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge showed us the tremendous care and effort that goes into saving species (they are working to control invasive species that threaten native vegetation).
We were also able to work with the Hakalau staff to plant 500 endangered trees; this was an amazing experience! We took several hikes around the Big Island to observe native and invasive species while discussing their impact on Hawaii. There was also time carved out for us to snorkel at Two Step near Kona; we saw many native fish, eels and sea turtles. We also did a night dive to observe Manta Rays off the coast near Kona as well.”
The Global Field Program’s Hawaii Earth Expedition partners with San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), Project Dragonfly, and Hawaiian partners to explore what it takes to save species in the wild. As a graduate program, students will spend time thinking how the experiences and skills developed will help them after graduation. “My experience was an important component that pushed me in the direction of starting a nonprofit organization to help get children more connected with nature. I am still in the beginning stages, but I will hopefully be applying for nonprofit status by the end of this year,” explains Danielle.
I already work with a few local schools; gardening, composting and water conservation projects mostly. It is amazing to see how getting outside and working hands-on with conservation related topics can change a child. I have been writing grants and working with PTAs to help fund my group for the past three years and now I think it’s time to really get this idea off the ground. (Guarding & Restoring Our World) GROW Club has 150 members this year, so I know it’s something parents and students are interested in. I am fortunate to have had such an amazing graduate experience that will help me give back to my community.”
Danielle has utilized the education and foundation developed at SUNY Buffalo State to experience success on her international journey with the Global Field Program and Project Dragonfly.
“I have definitely learned the power an experience can have. Sometimes I feel like young children are missing out on nature experiences these days, which will make it hard for them to become environmentally conscious adults. The trips that I have been on with Project Dragonfly have opened my eyes to that fact. If I can bring, even small experiences to children, hopefully I can instill love and appreciation for the Earth (while having fun, of course).”
With this journey, Danielle has gained valuable experience that she will carry on for a lifetime in her world travels. In addition to her time in Hawaii, she has also traveled to Baja and Guyana to study marine ecosystems and local wisdom and conservation. Through it all, she shows us how pursuing opportunities such as field research and other innovative missions beyond graduation is a great way to travel the world and give back to communities far from your local reach.