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The Spirit of Isle Royale, Part 4: Training the Next Generation of Researchers

TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson spent a week on the island and got a first hand look at the education happening on the island
Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 9:55 AM EDT
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Isle Royale, Mich. (WLUC) - These four college students didn’t know each other before they met for a summer internship on Isle Royale.

“This was at the top of my list of goals,” said Vincent Dockery. “For four years now since I started school. It’s hard to really describe what it means to me, and it’s even harder to describe what it’s going to mean for me for the future of my career path - I mean, it will mean a lot.”

Vincent Dockery is a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Stephens Point. He’s studying to become a wildlife biologist. Participating in this program, gathering data on the island to be used in the wolf, moose study, it’s an invaluable experience that will ultimately shape and guide him to that first job.

It’s not easy work - the students hike off trail on the island, following a GPS to plots being monitored for moose activity. They’re measuring vegetation and recording growth, tree height and overall tree conditions. Many of these trees are small, bare and unable to grow much taller than a few feet.

“It gives us a relative abundance of the species there,” added Dockery, “and then it gives us an idea of the condition of the balsam fir trees which are the primary source of the mooses diet.”

They’re learning how to collect ecological data and they’re becoming confident in the woods. Navigation skills they’ll use long after their time on the island.

“It’s maybe putting the students a little outside their comfort zone,” said program coordinator Sarah Hoy. “I think they learn a lot about themselves and about becoming really self reliant and to figure out problems.”

Ultimately the students likely won’t be around to see how the data they’re collecting impacts the study. But there will be papers written, conclusions drawn, and observations made based on their findings and their hard work.

For Northern Michigan University Biology Major Ben Miller, it’s more than we could have ever anticipated.

“Doing the sampling itself, walking the transects and doing the measuring, it really is enriching to me,” said Miller. “I feel like, I’m learning something new, every minute of everyday.”

For this group, that’s what it’s about, learning, growing, and building relationships, training to become the next generation of researchers from world renowned scientists.

“Getting the different perspectives of the people who’ve worked on this project for year and years,” added Miller. “They know so much about moose, wolves, the plants, the birds, everything around us, I can’t have a single conversation with them without learning something new, it’s incredible.”

“It’s spectacular,” exclaimed Dockery, “you have to come see if for yourself.”

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